Even before the death of Kim Jong Il was announced on Sunday, North Korea was going to be on the front pages of every major global newspaper this week. After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations the Americans and North Koreans were poised to ink a deal to release massive amounts of food aid. Then, at a meeting in Beijing on Thursday, North Korea officials were going to pledge to stop enriching uranium. This was to be the first major diplomatic breakthrough in North Korea since 2009, when the Six Party Talks abruptly ended after North Korea tested a ballistic missile in the direction of the USA.
It may also have paved the way for the resumption of the Six Party Talks — which would be a very big deal.
Alas, all this now has been thrown into question with the death of Kim Jong Il and the mystery surrounding his succession. The Americans have apparently not yet decided whether or not to go through with this plan. And who knows what is going on inside the Pyongyang puzzle palace?
That food aid is pretty desperately needed. NGOs have been critical of the White House for using humanitarian aid as a lever to secure political and diplomatic concessions from North Korean leadership. Back in October, a group of humanitarian NGOs like Mercy Corps, Samaritans Purse and World Vision uncharacteristically chastized the Obama administration for playing politics with food aid.
It would seem that after so much delay, the delivery of aid may be stalled even further. This is deeply problematic from a humanitarian perspective. In the end, the people who will suffer the most are the people who have always suffered the most.