US says N. Korea Agrees to Missile, Uranium Enrichment Moratorium

Posted February 29th, 2012 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
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The United States says North Korea has agreed to a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear testing and uranium enrichment activities.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Congressional committee Wednesday that Pyongyang has also agreed to allow international inspectors to verify and monitor the enrichment moratorium, and to confirm that a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon has been disabled.

Clinton's announcement comes as Washington continues to press North Korea to restart multi-national disarmament talks in exchange for badly-needed food aid to the impoverished communist state.

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. Additionally, 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.

Last week, U.S. envoy Glyn Davies said he was encouraged by ongoing disarmament talks with the North, but said he was not interested in “talk for talk's sake.”

Before the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il 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 chronic food shortages since a famine in the 1990s that is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Aid agencies say the communist country's food situation is the worst in several years, with torrential rains and harsh winter weather early this year cutting harvests and prompting appeals for help from Pyongyang.

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.