UPDATE : 2019.5.26 SUN 13:56
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S. Korea, U.S. to hold 'working-group' meeting on N.K. projectiles, food aid

South Korea and the United States were set to hold a "working-group" meeting in Seoul on Friday to discuss North Korea's missile launches, humanitarian assistance and other issues, officials here said.

Lee Do-hoon, the ministry's special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, and Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, will preside over the meeting aimed at coordinating the allies' approaches on the North's denuclearization, sanctions enforcement and inter-Korean relations.

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, arrives at Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul on May 8, 2019.

Less than a week after firing off multiple projectiles, the North launched a couple of presumably short-range missiles, casting a pall over the allies' efforts to lure the communist regime back to dialogue through the prospect of food aid.

The North's escalatory military moves are likely to be high on the working group agenda as both South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump have shown their dismay over them.

During a KBS interview on Thursday, Moon cautioned that Pyongyang's such moves would make the negotiation phase harder. Trump said the U.S. is monitoring the North "very seriously" after its launch of the projectiles, adding he doesn't think the regime is ready to negotiate.

Biegun arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for a four-day visit. It is his first trip here since the second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un collapsed due to a failure to bridge gaps on the extent of Pyongyang's denuclearization and Washington's sanctions relief.

The working-group meeting was expected to focus on humanitarian aid as Seoul has pursued it as a catalyst to persuade Pyongyang to return to dialogue at a time of spring poverty in the North hit by severe food shortages.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program, the North produced 4.9 million tons of crops last year, the lowest amount in a decade, and needs 1.36 million tons of food aid from outside.

It remains to be seen if the allies can move forward their discussions on food aid amid lingering criticism about such assistance in the wake of its military moves.

While saying that the U.S. support for food aid came before Thursday's launches, Moon noted the need for public understanding and consensus, and discussions among the ruling and opposition parties before the aid materializes.

Before the working-group meeting, Biegun will pay a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. He also plans to meet Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul later in the day.(Yonhap)

Kim Hyung-dae  edt@koeapost.com

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