* N.Korea move could open door to new 6-party disarmament
* U.S. agrees to food aid in confidence building measure
* Dramatic step follows December death of Kim Jong-il
(Adds Ban Ki-moon comments)
By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON, Feb 29 North Korea agreed on
Wednesday to stop nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and
long-range missile launches, and to allow checks by nuclear
inspectors, in an apparent policy shift that paves the way for
resuming long-stalled disarmament talks.
The surprise breakthrough, announced simultaneously by the
U.S. State Department and North Korea, also includes U.S. food
aid for the impoverished state and makes possible the resumption
of six-nation nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang. The news
followed bilateral diplomatic talks in Beijing last week.
"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
spokesman Jay Carney said.
Analysts cautioned that Pyongyang had backtracked repeatedly
on past deals, but the moves by North Korea mark a sharp change
in course, at least outwardly, by North Korea's reclusive
leadership after the death in December of veteran leader Kim
One senior U.S. official said the move "unlocked" an impasse
over the six-party talks, but that follow-through would require
persistence and patience.
"We believe that its important to translate this initial
sign of Pyongyang's seriousness of purpose into substantive and
meaningful negotiations on denuclearization that get at the
entirety of the North's nuclear program," the official said.
The State Department said that in return, the United States
was ready to go ahead with a proposed 240,000 metric-tonne food
aid package requested by North Korea and that more aid could be
agreed to based on continued need.
Along with halting weapons activities, North Korea said it
would permit nuclear inspectors from the U.N.'s International
Atomic Energy Agency to visit its Yongbyon nuclear complex to
verify the moratorium on uranium enrichment has been enforced.
"The DPRK, upon request by the U.S. and with a view to
maintaining 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 Yongbyon
and allow the IAEA to monitor the moratorium on uranium
enrichment while productive dialogues continue," North Korea's
official KCNA news agency said.
North Korea is known formally as the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Congressional
panel the North Koreans had made "a modest first step in the
right direction," but noted that Washington continued to have
profound concerns over a range of North Korean activities.
The IAEA, which withdrew its inspectors from North Korea in
2009, said it was ready to return, calling the moratorium deal
"an important step forward".
South Korea and Japan both welcomed the announcement, with
the Foreign Ministry in Seoul saying it could form the basis for
a broader agreement on North Korea's nuclear
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped North Korea
would move towards a "verifiable denuclearization of the Korean
"The Secretary-General also stresses the urgency of meeting
the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable people in DPRK,"
his spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.
The U.S. decision to resume food aid was a gesture toward
Pyongyang, which has sought international help to cope with
chronic food shortages.
The United States halted food aid to North Korea in 2009
amid a dispute over transparency and monitoring, compounding
problems that have followed a crippling famine in the 1990s that
killed an estimated one million people.
Under the new aid proposal, the United States is ready to
provide emergency nutrition, including corn-soy blend, vegetable
oil and therapeutic foods to help fight chronic malnutrition
among young children, pregnant women and other vulnerable
people, U.S. officials said.
The surprise announcement was a step forward for
Washington's campaign to rein in renegade nuclear programs
around the world and comes as the Obama administration steps up
pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions, which western
governments fear are aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
It also comes several weeks before U.S. President Barack
Obama visits Seoul for a nuclear security summit in March.
Analysts called the deal an important preliminary step and
said the return of IAEA inspectors would give the international
community an important window into North Korea's nuclear work.
"This puts an element of control back on the North Koreans'
nuclear development program as well as their existing
capabilities that we have not had for almost four years," said
Jack Pritchard, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea who
heads the Korea Economic Institute.
But Pritchard said he believed it was unlikely that
Pyongyang's young and untested new leader Kim Jong-un was ready
to comply with demands that he scrap the entire nuclear program.
"How does a 28-year-old give up the only legitimate piece of
leverage that he has in dealing with the superpowers to preserve
the survivability of his regime? He's not going to do that,"
In Congress, the powerful Republican head of the House
Foreign Affairs Committee said Pyongyang would likely continue
its clandestine nuclear program "right under our noses".
"We have bought this bridge several times before," Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
NEW LEADER AT THE TOP
The announcement followed talks between the United States
and with North Korea last week in Beijing, the first such
meeting since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as leader of the
communist state two months ago.
Bruce Klingner, a Korea analyst at the Heritage Foundation,
said the move did not necessarily represent any fundamental
change by Pyongyang, noting that it tracked a draft deal U.S.
diplomats were nearing at the time of Kim Jong-il's death.
"This is the first step in a very long road," he said,
saying it may simply provide the framework for additional
meetings between the United States and North Korea to haggle
over an agenda for any broader nuclear talks.
U.S. officials said it was up to North Korea to contact the
IAEA to discuss resumed inspections, and that they expected
tough negotiations over the sequence of steps to be taken.
"I wouldn't look for people to be in motion right away
here," one official said.
North Korea agreed to curtail its nuclear activities under a
an aid-for-denuclearization agreement reached in September 2005
by six-party talks bringing together North and South Korea,
China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Under the agreement, the North agreed to abandon its nuclear
programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic incentives to
be provided by the other parties involved in the negotiations.
But the embryonic deal was never fully implemented.
Instead, the North held two nuclear test blasts -- in 2006
and 2009 -- and later disclosed a uranium enrichment program,
giving it a second path to obtaining fissile material for bombs,
in addition to its long-standing program of producing plutonium.
The United States, South Korea and their allies had been
sceptical of North Korea's assertions that it stood ready to
return to the six-party talks, and U.S. officials said they
would insist on demonstrable progress.
"The truth is we've been around the six-party block before.
It has a history of ups and downs, sometimes more downs than
ups," one of the U.S. officials said.
"We can't allow the same patterns of the past to repeat
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Anthony Boadle and Mark