The United States sent a plane loaded with a small but symbolic shipment of emergency aid that was due to arrive in flood-stricken North Korea today, in the latest sign of a thaw in relations between the countries.
A cargo plane departed yesterday from the U.S. packed with $900,000 worth of food, medical aid, soap, blankets and cooking kits, according to the North Carolina-based aid group Samaritan’s Purse.
The shipment is to “let the North Koreans know that we are their friends,” Franklin Graham, president of the relief agency, said from an airfield in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a video clip posted on the group’s website. The clip showed tractors towing boxes to the plane, and the Boeing-747 taking off in a cloud of dust.
Samaritan’s Purse said it has pledged $1.2 million in addition to the $900,000 that the U.S. government has allocated for aid to North Korea through U.S.-based charities.
The help comes after U.S. and North Korean officials met in New York in late July for talks seen as a sign of a thaw in relations between the wartime foes.
Officials say they discussed ways to restart nuclear disarmament negotiations that have been stalled for more than two years. Washington says Pyongyang must prove its commitment to dismantling its nuclear arms programs before the talks on providing aid in exchange for disarmament can resume.
North Korea and the U.S. signed a truce in 1953 to bring the Korean War to a close, but have not signed a peace treaty and do not have diplomatic relations. Pyongyang cites the U.S. military presence in South Korea as a main reason for the need to build atomic weapons.
Heavy rain and tropical storms have pounded North Korea in the past few months, displacing nearly 30,000 people and killing dozens, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.
The World Food Program said earlier this year that an estimated 6 million of North Korea’s population of 24 million would go hungry without help from outside donors due to the impact on the harvest.
Washington has not responded with food aid, but pledged to provide emergency help for the flooding.