BEIJING, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- A top U.S. diplomat held talks with North Korea in Beijing Thursday on the possibility of resuming food aid to the country, U.S. officials said.
U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Robert King and U.S. Agency for International Development senior official Jon Brause met with Ri Gun, North Korea's chief diplomat on U.S. affairs, in the first of two or more days of bilateral talks, the officials said.
Ri also serves as North Korea's deputy nuclear negotiator to the so-called six-party talks, seeking to find a peaceful resolution to security concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
The Beijing meeting "follows up on conversations we've had in the past about whether the United States will provide nutritional assistance to North Korea," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Wednesday.
She said "nutritional assistance" was different from "food assistance." It refers not to "sacks of rice or cans of food" but to vitamin supplements, high-protein biscuits and other provisions specifically for "populations in need," she said.
Washington doesn't want the food to end up "on some leader's banquet table," she said.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said Washington was expected to offer children's biscuits and infant formula, rather than rice, which Pyongyang wants but which Washington fears could be redirected to North Korea's military as well as communist leaders.
Nuland said before Washington agrees to any aid, it would need to be assured "much more strict and clear monitoring systems" were in place to make certain the food reaches those most in need.
North Korea expelled U.S. charities monitoring food distribution in March 2009, shortly before beginning nuclear tests that prompted international sanctions.
The North quit the six-party talks in April 2009, a month before a second nuclear test.
North Korea declared in June 2009 that in response to U.N. sanctions it would progress with its uranium-enrichment program -- the first time Pyongyang publicly acknowledged it had such a program.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said two months ago Pyongyang was ready to restart the six-party talks with no preconditions. But Washington and U.S. allies insist Pyongyang first freeze its uranium-enrichment program.
Pyongyang says the program can be discussed during the talks.