China's state television shows footage of Kim Jong-un looking at his father's, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, body laying in state in Pyongyang December 20, 2011. China on Monday offered its "deep condolences" on the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, which analysts said will spur China's leaders to boost ties with Pyongyang to prevent instability. UPI/Stephen Shaver | License Photo
PYONGYANG, North Korea, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Speeding up U.S. food aid to North Korea would be an effective way to engage the new regime in that communist country, the head of a humanitarian group said.
The appeal to assist the malnourished North Koreans came from David Austin, North Korean program director for Mercy Corps, a U.S. global aid agency, as the isolated and impoverished North Korea transitions to new leadership with the weekend death of Kim Jong Il, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"This is a great opportunity," Austin said. "What a great way to engage the new regime. Let's start on the most basic humanitarian principals."
U.S. State Department officials plan to wait until after North Korea's 11-day official mourning period before assessing that country's food requirement.
Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of Kim Jong Il, has been named to succeed the departed leader although questions remain whether the younger Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, would be up to the task. Little is known about him.
The United States is believed to be ready to send 240,000 tons of protein-rich food if North Korea discontinues its uranium-enrichment program, the Times said.
The six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament have stalled for three years after Pyongyang walked out to protest sanctions imposed following its second nuclear and missile tests.
However, Austin said non-profit workers on their tour of flood-hit regions in North Korea in September saw children starving. He said his group has a container of medicine ready to be sent to that country within weeks, the Times reported.
"The reality is that as long as we don't engage, then we are losing a prime opportunity to get food to these people now," he said.