North and South Korea exchange food gifts

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South Korea has sent 200 tonnes of tangerines to the North in return for mushrooms Pyongyang gave earlier, Seoul said on Monday, in the latest reconciliatory gesture between the neighbors. Seoul is pushing ahead with a rapprochement with the nuclear-armed North while its security ally the US insists pressure on Pyongyang should be maintained until it denuclearises. The tangerines a rarity in the North were being airlifted to Pyongyang from the southern island of Jeju, where they were grown, in four flights, the last one due Monday afternoon. The fruits reciprocate two tonnes of pine mushrooms sent by the North’s leader Kim Jong Un during his September summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in, Seoul’s presidential office said. The pine mushrooms a delicacy claimed to help prevent heart diseases and diabetes, and a key Northern export to China were distributed to Southern families separated from relatives in the North. “Tangerines are a specialty of the South that ordinary North Koreans normally don’t have access to,” Moon’s spokesman said Sunday.

His office did not elaborate on the fruits’ value but local media, citing local tangerine prices, estimated it at about 400 to 500 million won ($350,000-$440,000). Opposition politicians were critical. “This action runs counter to the current atmosphere of the international community,” Liberty Korea Party floor leader Song Hee-kyung said in a statement. “South Koreans are sick and tired of such sentimental moves.” Moon a dovish leader who advocates dialogue with the North to nudge it toward denuclearisation negotiations has met Kim three times so far and is seeking to hold another summit in Seoul in the near future. Kim also gave Moon a pair of North Korean indigenous hunting dogs after the September summit one of which gave birth to six puppies on Friday, according to the South Korean leader. “The gift of two dogs now grew to six more dogs. It’s a good fortune for us,” Moon said on Facebook on Monday, adding: “I hope inter-Korea ties will also be like this.”

But the peace push has increasingly met with scepticism at home and abroad as denuclearisation talks between Pyongyang and Washington falter. North Korea last week asked for a planned meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim’s right-hand man Kim Yong Chol to be delayed. No clear explanation was given, but Pyongyang is demanding sanctions imposed on it over its weapons programmes are eased while Washington insists that they should stay in place until the North denuclearises.

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