02 September 1998
CONGRESS WILL REASSESS NORTH KOREA AID, GILMAN SAYS(Congressman critical of North Korea actions) (940) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent New York -- As the US-North Korea talks stalled September 1, US Representative Benjamin Gilman (Republican-New York) warned that when Congress resumes work next week it will take a new look at US aid to North Korea. Gilman, who is chairman of the House International Relations Committee, spoke with journalists at the US Mission to the UN after having had a scheduled appointment with senior North Korean negotiators canceled for the second time in a week. The North Korean delegation did not show up for talks in New York September 1, sending word instead that it was awaiting instructions from Pyongyang. US officials said that the talks on Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programs and other issues had been proceeding well for four days until North Korea test-launched a new long-range missile over Japan. "If the missile test was a negotiating tactic, it surely backfired," Gilman said. "The test clearly damages the political atmosphere between our two nations and prospects for maintaining peace and stability in the region," he said. "How long will it be before this new missile finds its way around the world to some other rogue nation?" Gilman said that when Congress returns from vacation it would consider "withholding further funding until there is a successful negotiation and to show our dissatisfaction with the manner in which the North Koreans reacted to our attempt to resolve these problems." Nevertheless, the Congressman said he is not advocating the US "walk away" from the talks. Gilman called for "an intensive round of consultations" with Japan and South Korean "about missile defense to counter the North Korean threat." He said he thinks "it is time for the Administration to reappraise our policy toward North Korea. It's evident our current policies have been ineffective in engaging the North Korean machine and reducing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula." Gilman said Congress has been supporting the talks and the humanitarian aid program, which includes food and heavy fuel oil, "but unless there is going to be an agreement ... support in Congress will dissipate. "Food aid is already on the high seas and that food aid should continue to North Korea," the Congressman said, but he added that "talk of any new assistance should be suspended until we are certain that North Korea is going to become a responsible international actor. "I'm not trying to threaten. I'm trying to reflect how the Congress will react based upon the fact that (Pyongyang) had tested this long-range missile, that they have this underground facility, that they're not meeting us to resolve some of the issues. I think the Congress will have a very negative reaction," he said. "We were prepared to give them food aid on the humanitarian basis but with the firing of the missiles and recent information we've received ... I think there's going to be a great deal of reluctance in the Congress when we go back next week," he said. Gilman said "many of our members are going to be questioning our commitment as to why we are continuing to fund North Korea and they are unwilling to sit down and come to an agreement with us with regard to missile proliferation, with regard to research and development of long-range missiles, with regard to the hunger situation, with regard to number of other issues." He said he and his Senate counterpart, Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have "a hold on" appropriations for aid to North Korea for the coming year as well as for additional emergency food aid for this year. Gilman also presented a report prepared by a group of US Congressional staff members who traveled to North Korea and China August 11-23 to assess the food situation and other bilateral issues between the US and North Korea. Characterizing it as a "grim report," the Congressman said that the mission "confirms the steady economic decline and continuing hunger in North Korea. "What's even worse, our committee staff learned that people caught searching for food are put in prisons named 'prisons for the hungry,'" Gilman said. "The North Koreans blame their woes on floods and drought, on winds and tides. The real cause of their food shortage is essentially their failure to bring about agricultural reform and reform of the economy," he noted. "We supported food aid to North Korea in the past to save lives -- that kind of assistance cannot continue without some basic reform in the North Korean economy," Gilman said. The Congressional mission said that the severe food shortage in the country continues and while prospects for the October harvest are better than they have been in years it will not cover North Korea's needs. "Given the growing fatigue of European and Japanese food aid donors, continued dependence on massive food aid deliveries is untenable," the mission said. "Reliable sources estimate that of North Korea's 23 million people, between 300,000 and 800,000 people have died each year (peaking in 1997) as a result of the food shortages," the mission's report said. The international community is feeding nearly every child under the age of seven and most hospitals in North Korea lack the most basic supplies including food, aspirin, and X-ray film, the mission reported. The United States is currently the largest food donor to North Korea, with almost $200 million worth in the past four years. North Korea is about to surpass many African countries in continued food aid needs, Gilman noted.