Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday the U.S. remains willing to engage with North Korea but only if the communist state improves relations with South Korea.
Clinton was speaking after talks in Washington with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.
The U.S. and South Korea have closely coordinated policy toward Pyongyang in the past two years, but have made little headway. They are demanding North Korea improve tense relations with the South before international negotiations resume on the North's nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, there are mounting concerns that the North's atomic capabilities are growing.
The allies are considering providing food aid to impoverished North Korea, which the U.N. says needs emergency assistance for a quarter of its estimated 23 million people. The South is deeply skeptical of the North's request. The U.S. last month sent a food assessment mission to the reclusive country and says it is undecided on whether to help.
"We are looking at whether there's a real need, what the competing needs are because we are living in a time of rising food insecurity in many places in the world and whether we can put in place sufficient monitoring mechanisms so that the food aid that's delivered actually gets to the people who need it," Clinton told a news conference.
Many donor nations are leery of providing aid to North Korea, fearing it may be diverted to the powerful military or communist party elite.
Tensions have been high on the Korean peninsula following two military clashes in the past year blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans.