N. Korea agrees to halt nuke program

Hillary Clinton says on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., capital of the United States, Feb. 29, 2012 that the agreement of Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to suspend its nuclear activities was a "modest first step". <Photo: Xinhua>

North Korea announced Wednesday that it will temporarily halt its uranium enrichment program and put a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests in exchange for food aid and a guarantee of continued negotiations with the United States.

“The DPRK, upon request by the U.S. and with a view to maintaining a positive atmosphere for the DPRK-U.S. high-level talks, agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests, long-range missile launches, and uranium enrichment activity at Nyongbyon and allow the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment while productive dialogues continue,” a spokesman at the North’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The statement, carried in English by its official news agency, KCNA, refers to activities at the North’s major nuclear facility in Nyongbyon, also called Yongbyon, located north of Pyongyang.

The North’s move comes after high-level talks with the U.S. in Beijing last week.

In a rare simultaneous announcement, the U.S. government also released a statement on the results of the Beijing talks partly intended to restart the six-way nuclear negotiations, also involving South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

“The DPRK (North Korea) has also agreed to the return of IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and confirm the disablement of the 5-MW reactor and associated facilities,” the State Department said, referring to the monitors for the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.

The two sides also struck a deal on Washington’s provision of 240,000 tons of “nutritional assistance” to Pyongyang, although they will address “administrative details in the immediate future.”

The U.S. stressed food will be delivered “along with intensive monitoring,” but the North did not mention the sensitive monitoring issue.
A senior U.S. official told reporters later that the North had initially asked for “large quantities of rice and grain,” which Washington believes can be diverted to the military and other ruling elites.

“They’ve now dropped those demands and agreed to allow our program to move forward as proposed, with an understanding, as always would be the case, that further assistance would be based on verified need,” the official said in a conference call with reporters. His name was withheld in accordance with a press rule.

Pyongyang, meanwhile, placed emphasis on other incentives.

“The U.S. made it clear that sanctions against the DPRK are not targeting the civilian sector, including the livelihoods of people,” it said. “Once the six-party talks are resumed, priority will be given to the discussion of issues concerning the lifting of sanctions on the DPRK and provision of light water reactors.”

The White House welcomed the deal and stressed it should be backed up by actions.

“These are concrete measures that we consider a positive first step toward complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

“The agreements that the North Koreans have made are very welcome, but obviously they need to be followed up by actions. And commitments to do something are one thing; actually doing them are another,” he said.

South Korea welcomed the agreement. Seoul was a “co-architect” of the pre-step approach to test Pyongyang’s seriousness, according to officials here.

“The U.S.-North Korea announcement reflects the close work Seoul and Washington have done to try to resolve the nuclear standoff,” Seoul’s foreign ministry spokesman, Cho Byung-jae, said.

The head of the IAEA also issued a statement and vowed full cooperation in following up on what he said is an important step forward.

“As I have said before, the Agency has an essential role to play in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear program. Pending further details, we stand ready to return to Yongbyon to undertake monitoring activities upon request and with the agreement of the Agency’s Board of Governors,” IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said.

The U.S. admitted that tough negotiations lie ahead for implementing the deal.

“On the IAEA and next steps, it will be up to the North Koreans — and we were quite explicit in our understandings at Beijing — up to the North Koreans to get in touch with the IAEA to discuss next steps,” the senior U.S. official said in the phone briefing. “We will see how long that process takes. We hope it happens relatively quickly.” <Korea Times>


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