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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June, 2005, 00:02 GMT 01:02 UK
US pledges North Korean food aid
Girl in a North Korean nursery (Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province)
The UN has warned its N Korean food stocks are running low
The United States has promised impoverished North Korea 50,000 tonnes of food aid but denied the gift was linked to nuclear arms talks.

It will be the third year in a row the US has donated aid, to be distributed through the UN World Food Programme.

"It is a humanitarian act based on need," the US state department said.

However analysts said they believed the timing was clearly linked to attempts to draw the North back into six-sided talks on its nuclear programme.

"To suggest that there is somehow blind justice involved here and the administration doesn't understand the positive bounce [they] are going to get politically... would be naive," said Jack Pritchard, a former US special envoy to North Korea.

He told Reuters news agency that the aid could help China and South Korea persuade the North to return to the talks, which have been suspended since last year.

At a meeting earlier on Wednesday in Seoul, Pyongyang appealed to the South for more food aid.

Major donor

US state department spokesman Adam Ereli said the dispatch of "agricultural commodities" through the WFP was not linked to the six-party talks.

The US, he noted, gave North Korea 50,000 tons in 2004 and 100,000 tons in 2003.

Better monitoring on the part of the WFP and more cooperation on the part of the North had reduced the chance of aid being diverted, he added.

US President George W Bush did not "believe food should be used as a diplomatic weapon", White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

America is one of the largest single donors of aid to the secretive communist state, which has been plagued by famine.

The WFP is currently feeding some 6.5 million North Koreans - nearly a third of the population - and has appealed for 504,000 tons of commodities for this year alone.

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