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

Posted February 29th, 2012 at 10:00 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.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said 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.

Nuland's statement comes as Washington continues to press North Korea to restart disarmament talks in exchange for badly-needed food aid to the impoverished communist state. Last week, U.S. envoy Glyn Davies said he was encouraged by ongoing talks with the North, but said he was not interested in “talk for talk's sake.”

Her comments were echoed by U.S. admiral Robert Willard, the head of the Asia Pacific Command, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington.

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 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.