(by Lee Chi-dong, WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2011 Yonhap) A senior U.S. congressman expressed support for the shipment of food aid to hunger-stricken North Korean people and also stressed the need for continued dialogue with the communist regime. Rep. Donald Manzullo, a Republican from Illinois who leads the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, questioned the effectiveness of further sanctions on Pyongyang.
“We have to continue talking, but also I don’t know how many more sanctions we can have on North Korea than we have now, aside from a blockade,” he said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency at his office. It was the 10-term lawmaker’s first interview with Korean media. He is known for his efforts to bolster the alliance between Seoul and Washington. He said that after decades of fierce debates, the North Korea issue has drawn bipartisan solidarity.
“It’s nonpolitical in Washington, our attitude and the actions we take toward North Korea, which is sort of interesting because in Washington almost everything is political. But when it comes to this, nobody is criticizing the president for not doing more or taking another approach on it,” he said.
He said there is basically no difference between the Bush administration’s policy on Pyongyang and that of the Obama government. “There is a time to negotiate and a time to stand back,” he said. That is why, he said, North Korea is not a topic in television debates among the Republican Party’s presidential hopefuls. “The reason they don’t talk about it as an issue is that everybody sort of agrees on the same strategy,” he said.
Manzullo, who has a very conservative voting record, said he backs food aid for North Korea as long as the transparency of distributions is guaranteed. “We just want to make sure that if American food goes there or dollars to buy food, that it gets into the hands of the people who need it. That’s always been a problem,” he said.
His comments came as the U.S. and North Korea had working-level talks in Beijing last week to discuss the terms of possible food aid, which the U.S. government formally calls “nutritional assistance.” The North hopes for rice but the U.S., worried that it may be diverted into the military, wants to send more perishable items such as formula, biscuits and instant noodles, according to diplomatic sources. The representative said it is a matter that has to be determined by the governments of the two sides.
On Iran, he strongly called for South Korea to cut trade with the Middle Eastern country to join the U.S. move to toughen sanctions on it. South Korea imports about 9 percent of its crude oil from Iran. Announcing a set of new sanctions against Iran on Friday, Seoul did not touch on oil imports. “Get the oil from somewhere else. And whatever South Korea can do they should do,” he said, adding it’s “ironic” that South Korea, seeking to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, would not take the same tack with Iran.
He said he does not expect a major change in the U.S. military presence on the peninsula despite defense budget cuts. The U.S. has around 28,000 troops in South Korea. “I hear no talk at all in Washington that with the defense cutback that there is going to be any change in our present troop levels in South Korea,” he said. “I don’t see that happening.”