As bad blood grew between the former rivals, even South Korea's ruling Grand National Party, usually not too chummy with Pyongyang, placed the issue of rice aid back on the agenda. Ahn Sang-soo, chairman of the governing party, recently called on the government to "conditionally restart" rice aid to prevent the relations from getting worse.
Lee Jae-oh, another conservative political heavyweight and trusted confidant of the president, also weighed in. "There's a need to consider resuming rice aid to North Korea at a humanitarian level," the minister-designate said during a recent parliamentary hearing. Political situations and humanitarian concerns should be distinguished, he said.
The seemingly dovish stance newly adopted by key ruling party officials hints at a growing consensus within the governing bloc that Seoul should put a break on rapidly souring inter-Korean ties, observers here said.
Still, the government would not budge on the issue.
"As we have repeatedly said, the government views rice aid as a matter to be decided after considering current inter-Korean relations, food situations of the North and the public opinion," Seoul's unification ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said during a press briefing on Wednesday.
Seoul will adhere to its principle that only humanitarian assistance for the vulnerable in the DPRK can be conditionally allowed, she said. The government earlier this week gave a rare nod to Seoul-based Red Cross's emergency flood aid offer to the DPRK, but flood aid and rice aid are "two separate matters," according to the spokeswoman.
The dismissal coincides with the government's plan to buy up to 500,000 tons of rice to stabilize market prices, as domestic rice prices nosedive and rice stockpiles soar -- another reason, rice aid advocates say, to provide the country's staple grain to people in the DPRK.
Farm minister Yoo Jeong-bok said Tuesday allowing rice shipments to the DPRK would be an "effective" way to help deal with surplus rice that threatens livelihoods of South Korean rice farmers.
The aid also merits consideration in terms of alleviating inter- Korean acrimony and for humanitarian reasons, but "the government will have to review the issue comprehensively by taking political situations into account," he added.