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U.S. envoy going to North Korea to assess food shortage

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Food shortage in North Korea
  • "There are big concerns now for the levels of food available," aid group says
  • The U.S. delegation trip to North Korea comes after continued tension between the nations
  • Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has also warned about a food shortage

(CNN) -- A U.S. delegation will travel to North Korea on Tuesday for a four-day trip to assess the food situation in the reclusive nation.

The special envoy for North Korean human rights, Robert King, and the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Jon Brause, will make the trip, the State Department said.

The trip comes as some are concerned that floods and harsh weather have devastated North Korea's crops.

"It's had a big impact on the winter crop, and there are big concerns now for the levels of food available through the public distribution system," said Marcus Prior of the World Food Programme.

Tensions between North Korea and the West have spiked in recent years due in part to concerns over Pyongyang's nuclear development program.

The United States and South Korea held joint military drills in February, despite North Korea's warning to the South not to carry them out -- calling the exercises a provocation.

South Korea accuses the North of torpedoing and sinking one of its warships in March 2010, killing 46 sailors.

In November, North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.

The U.S. suspended aid two years ago to North Korea because it suspected the donated food was being diverted to the military or not reaching those most in need.

But in recent weeks, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and American televangelist Franklin Graham visited North Korea and warned of a food crisis.

"I don't think the U.S. needs a crisis in Asia right now, a crisis with the country that has the second largest army in Asia, a country that has nuclear weapons," Graham said. "Are you going to starve them into a corner to where they have no choice but to try to act to survive?"

CNN's Eunice Yoon contributed to this report.