David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), is seeking to exploit a diplomatic thaw between Pyongyang and Washington to potentially secure hundreds of millions of dollars from donor countries to dramatically expand U.N. relief operations in North Korea.
But the former Republican governor from South Carolina has encountered resistance from the White House, even as President Donald Trump prepares to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore next month.
According to two diplomatic sources, White House officials rebuffed Beasley’s appeal for funds in a meeting in late April.
The United States donated hundreds of millions of dollars to WFP’s food assistance to Pyongyang in the 1990s but began phasing out aid after the George W. Bush administration designated North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil in 2002. Today, the United States no longer contributes to the food agency’s operations in North Korea.
If the United States commits funds to food aid, U.N. officials say, other countries, including Japan and South Korea, are likely to give more generously.
Beasley, who returned recently from a visit to Pyongyang and other parts of the country, told Foreign Policy in an interview that North Koreans face a shortfall of up to 2 million metric tons of food each year.
He didn’t specify the cost of expanding the U.N. program. But filling that gap, experts say, could run to $750 million in food assistance each year.
More than 10 million of the country’s 25 million residents are undernourished, according to a 2017 U.N. report.
“The human needs are so great, and we have a severe funding shortage,” Beasley said.
“We hope that we will receive the necessary funding to ramp up in a major way. But it is up to us to show the donors the needs [of North Koreans]. The donors want to know the food is going to the intended recipient — and not supporting a military buildup.”
Trump’s White House has been reluctant to offer foreign aid, particularly to America’s adversaries. A National Security Council spokesman, Robert Palladino, would not comment directly on the question of Beasley’s contacts with the administration. But he said the United States would continue to apply pressure on North Korea until it is free of nuclear weapons.