The United States will not provide food to North Korea after its rocket launch, widely believed to be a test of its ballistic missile technology, an Obama administration official said Friday.
The launch, announced last month, had long been expected to jeopardize a deal struck between the U.S. and North Korea under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its weapons programs. As part of the pact, the U.S. was to provide the country with 240,000 metric tons of food aid.
Though the U.S. insisted the aid did not depend on the weapons agreement, a State Department spokeswoman said last month that the launch announcement threw other North Korean promises into question. Echoing those earlier words, an administration official said Friday that the food aid would be canceled.
“Their efforts to launch a missile clearly demonstrate that they could not be trusted to keep their commitments,” deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said aboard Air Force One. “Therefore we’re not going forward with an agreement to provide them any assistance.”
When asked why the U.S. would withhold food aid to North Korea while continuing to supply assistance to other governments it disagrees with, Rhodes said North Korea couldn't be trusted to provide food to the people who needed it.
"It's the North Korean government that is holding its own people hostage because, frankly, we can't trust them to implement an agreement and to make sure that the assistance gets to those who need it," he said.
The rocket launch failed not long after liftoff, a possible sign that Pyongyang hasn't advanced its technology as much as feared. Anxiety has now turned to whether North Korea will carry out a nuclear test to show the world its weapons prowess, as it did twice in the past after attempting to launch a rocket.
Hunger is a chronic problem in impoverished North Korea, where people have long lived on the brink of starvation. Estimates from the United Nations and outside experts show the country falling short on food.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Credit: The North Korean Unha-3 rocket sits at Tangachai-ri space center on April 8, 2012. North Korea launched the rocket Friday morning. Credit: Pedro Ugarte / AFP/Getty Images