Seoul shows flexibility on NK aid

Seoul has not ruled out rice or other sensitive item as it consults over how to aid to flood-stricken North Korea, an official said Tuesday.

The North on Monday accepted the Lee Myung-bak government’s proposal to hold talks on the matter, and asked it to specify the quantity and type of aid it intends to send.

“We are consulting internally about what we think the North most direly needs,” a Seoul official said, asking for anonymity. “We haven’t ruled out specific items and we are willing to communicate more about it.”

The Lee administration has been cautious in offering aid, following sanctions implemented after two deadly attacks in 2010. Last year it offered to send emergency supplies, but Pyongyang spurned the package, saying it wanted rice and cement instead.

Those items are feared to be easier to stockpile or divert for military purposes.

The North’s response came a week after Seoul’s offer, which broke the administration’s silence over how the government would handle the North’s woes brought on by Typhoon Bolaven.

The South’s Red Cross says some 176 North Koreans were killed and 220,000 are homeless due to recent floods including those unleashed by Bolaven, which hit the peninsula late last month.

The flexible responses are being seen as both Korea’s willingness to explore talks after years of icy ties.

Any talks would be seen as a gauge of the North’s appetite for engagement under new leader Kim Jong-un on other inter-Korean issues such as resuming reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and joint tours to the Mt. Geumgang resort. <The Korea Times/Kim Young-jin>

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