By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration says it has dropped plans to provide 240,000 metric tons of food aid for North Korea over Pyongyang’s plans to launch what the U.S. says is a missile — but which North Korea claims is a rocket designed to boost a satellite into space.
The food aid was supposed to be part of a deal announced Feb. 29 and dubbed the Leap Year deal. It would see North Korea suspend some of its nuclear fuel enrichment activities, admit international nuclear inspectors and put a moratorium on long-range missile launches.
But the two countries never signed a joint declaration, instead issuing statements that each has interpreted their own way.
The deal has swiftly unraveled over North Korea’s plans for a multiple-stage rocket launch in mid-April.
U.S. officials maintain that they told the North Koreans that the launch of a satellite was unacceptable and would scuttle their agreement. But Pyongyang insisted that the deal did not restrict launches of civilian satellites, which they say is the purpose of the April event.
James Miller, nominated to become Defense undersecretary for policy, told a Senate committee that if Pyongyang fires the rocket “we will stop this aid, and stop the other steps we had intended to take, and have to have a complete reconsideration of where we go in the future.”
President Barack Obama said Sunday during his visit to Seoul that a launch could lead to further harsh economic sanctions on the impoverished country.