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Farmers plant rice last May in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Can food kindness win over North Korea?

 The Biden administration threw its support behind a South Korea plan to offer aid to a food-short North Korea in hopes of renewing peace talks.

Over his four years as South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in has looked for what he calls “snowballs,” or openings for soft diplomacy with North Korea. A snowball, he says, might be rolled into a snowman of peace. In recent weeks, Mr. Moon has spotted such an opening – a food crisis in North Korea – and has made plans to offer humanitarian aid. On Monday, he won a green light from the Biden administration to start this snowball rolling.

His hopes of using food aid to start a dialogue with North Korea on its nuclear program were bolstered in early August. Pyongyang agreed to reestablish a telephone hotline after a 13-month lapse. Also, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been unusually open and contrite about his failure to feed his 25 million people. Earlier this year, he apologized for what he called the “worst situation ever” in agriculture.

While heavy rains, drought, international sanctions, and the pandemic have contributed to the North’s food shortage, Mr. Kim’s apology clearly points to mismanagement of his government-run and closed economy. His regime has had to dip into the military’s rice reserves to keep people from starvation. According to a United Nations forecast in late July, the food situation will deteriorate through November. Some Korea watchers expect an aid deal within a year.

Food aid is allowed under the U.N. sanctions regime imposed on North Korea for violations in its testing of missiles and nuclear weapons. For Mr. Moon, a former human rights lawyer whose parents came from North Korea, the aid would be a small step in rebuilding trust and in signaling a message of unity between the divided Korean people. His act of kindness might have that sort of snowball effect.

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