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U.S. AND JAPAN RULE OUT IMMEDIATE FOOD AID TO N. KOREA

The United States and Japan Tuesday ruled out immediate food aid to North Korea despite U.N. warnings that food supply in the Stalinist state is "perilously close to collapse."

"With respect to food aid and sanctions, we have no plans at this time to go forward," Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Winston Lord told reporters at the end of two days of talks with Japanese and South Korean officials on strategy toward the North.The three countries issued a joint statement saying they agreed to continue efforts to persuade the North to accept four-nation peace talks proposed by Washington and Seoul last month.

On the food issue, the United States and Japan backed South Korea's contention that the North could still manage its shortages despite warnings Monday by two U.N. agencies that the crisis was deepening faster than expected and was likely to get even worse.

"We will keep the situation under review," Lord, who headed the U.S. delegation, said.

Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Shunji Yanai said: "We have no plans to extend food assistance." Japan provided 500,000 tons for rice to North Korea last year.

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Chung Tae-ik said the envoys reached a consenus "in all areas of concern."

A South Korean official said: "The three nations agreed that, although North Korea had a serious food shortage, the situation is not likely to lead to a disastrous . . . African-style famine."