Food Before Peace

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SEOUL: North Korea says it's ready for four-way peace talks aimed at officially ending the Korean War, but only if the U.S. first establishes full diplomatic and economic ties with Pyongyang. South Korea has given the proposal a cold reception so far, maintaining the demand has more to do with extracting maximum pre-talk concessions than it does with a sincere desire to end long-standing hostilities. North Korea reportedly also is asking for commitments of regular food aid shipments over the next several years before negotiations begin, an idea that both the U.S. and South Korea have rejected. Despite tough talk following damaging comments by defector Hwang Jang Yop that the North plans to "scorch" South Korea and Japan with chemical and nuclear weapons, it's clear that the rapidly disintegrating north desperately needs help fast. International relief organizations say the famine-ravaged country will be out of food sometime in May, putting an even greater urgency on negotiations.