North Korea Agrees to Nuclear Moratorium, IAEA Inspections

Posted February 29th, 2012 at 5:12 pm (UTC-5)
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North Korea on Wednesday agreed to temporarily suspend nuclear tests, long-range ballistic missile launches and other nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment.

The breakthrough, announced simultaneously by the United States and North Korean officials, followed talks in Beijing and came two months after the death of North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Il.

In Washington, the White House welcomed North Korea's decision as a “positive first step.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Congressional committee Wednesday that Pyongyang has also agreed to allow international inspectors to verify and monitor the suspension of uranium-enrichment activities, and to confirm that a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon has been disabled. She said that while there are still profound concerns about North Korea's behavior, the announcement reflects progress.

Clinton also said U.S. and North Korean nutrition assistance teams will meet in the immediate future to complete details of a plan for 240,000 metric tons of U.S. food assistance for Pyongyang. She said the deal calls for “intensive monitoring” to ensure the aid reaches the most needy.

“The United States, I would be quick to add, still has profound concerns. But on the occasion of (the late North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il's death, I said that it is our hope that the new leadership will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by living up to its obligations. Today's announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction.”

The United States suspended its food assistance program to the North in early 2009, in part because of concerns the food was being diverted to North Korea's military or members of its political elite.

Before the death of Mr. Kim in December, analysts say North Korea was poised to announce an agreement with Washington to suspend its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the food aid. Pyongyang has since hinted it is open to the deal, which could lead to a resumption of stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks.

North Korea has suffered from widespread hunger due to floods and poor harvests. A major famine in the 1990s is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Despite its political differences with North Korea, the U.S. has been the biggest single contributor of food aid to the communist state since the famine.