North Korea Agrees to Halt Nuclear Tests, Missile Launches Amid U.S. Talks

By Maria Ermakova and Roxana Tiron

North Korea agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and uranium enrichment at Yongbyon to aid relations with the U.S., according to both nations.
The agreement is a “modest first step in the right direction,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told House lawmakers today in Washington. Further talks will be held on implementing the accord, which includes plans for the U.S. to provide food aid to the isolated nation.
The accord came out of talks between the U.S. and North Korea in Beijing on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24, the first since dictator Kim Jong Il died in December and his son, Kim Jong Un, inherited leadership of the impoverished, nuclear-armed country.
The new leader is following the “exact playbook” of alternating confrontations and negotiations established by his father and his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, according to David Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University in Washington.
“I do not see this as any kind of change or breakthrough,” Maxwell, who said North Korea was angling for food aid, said today in an interview.

Food Aid

The U.S. agreed to make final plans to provide an initial 240,000 metric tons of food aid, with the “prospect of additional assistance based on continued need,” according to a State Department statement.
The U.S. has expressed concern that food aid not be diverted to North Korea’s military and elite, and Clinton said there will be discussions on steps needed to monitor food distribution.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said today in an e-mailed statement that the talks “offered a venue for sincere and in- depth discussion” of measures to build confidence and improve relations.
“The United States still has profound concerns regarding North Korean behavior across a wide range of areas, but today’s announcement reflects important, if limited, progress in addressing some of these,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said today in the department’s e-mailed statement.
“The United States reaffirms that it does not have hostile intent” toward North Korea, according to Nuland’s statement.

South Korea’s Response

South Korea’s government welcomes the results of the talks in Beijing and expects the agreements will be “faithfully carried out,” the South’s foreign ministry said today in a statement on its website.
South Korea sees the agreements as “a basis to further its efforts to comprehensively and fundamentally resolve the North Korean nuclear issue,” the ministry said.
As part of the talks in Beijing, North Korea agreed to permit the return of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to verify and monitor a moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and confirm that the five- megawatt reactor and associated facilities are being disabled, according to the State Department.
North Korea said it will let the IAEA monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment “while productive dialogues continue.”
Analysts in the U.S. debated whether the announcement represented movement by North Korea under its new leader.
“This could be one of the more significant diplomatic surprises of the year,” George Lopez, a former United Nations sanctions investigator now at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, said today in an e-mail. “Very few analysts believed that anything of substance would happen in the first few months after Kim Jong Un came to power.”

‘Baseline Understanding’

John Park, a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said the deal announced today had been scheduled for December and was postponed upon Kim Jong Il’s death. Its revival is significant as a sign of continuity, Park said.
“It provides something of a baseline understanding with the new leadership in Pyongyang,” he said.
U.S. Republican Representative Ed Royce said the agreement shows the Obama administration “is following the failed course of its predecessor” on North Korea.
“Years of getting duped by North Korea should tell us that verification on their turf is extremely difficult, if not impossible,” Royce, chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, said in an e-mailed statement. “That applies to food aid distribution, where the military has stolen food aid, or nuclear disarmament.”

Six-Party Talks

North Korea’s foreign ministry said the discussions in Beijing offered an opportunity for the resumption of six-party talks, which haven’t been held since December 2008. The six- party talks are aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program through negotiations involving China, the U.S., Japan, Russia, North Korea and South Korea.
The Beijing meetings were the third since the U.S. resumed direct talks with North Korea in efforts to bring the country back to negotiations aimed at persuading the regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
In October, Kim Jong Il said North Korea was ready to restart the talks as long as they occurred without preconditions. The U.S. State Department said in August that North Korea must refrain from nuclear testing and missile launches and meet other conditions before the talks can resume. The North revealed its uranium-enrichment program in 2010.

To contact the reporters on this story: Maria Ermakova in London at mermakova@bloomberg.net; Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net