On Wednesday, North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and missile launches, and to allow nuclear inspectors. The announcement came after the two days of talks between US and North Korean officials in Beijing, the first of such contact since the death of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il. North Korea’s announcement could pave the way for the resumption of the six-party nuclear disarmament talks and was welcomed by China.
The unexpected breakthrough was announced simultaneously by the US State Department and North Korea’s official news agency.
North Korea said it would allow nuclear inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency to check on its Yongbyon nuclear complex to confirm that the moratorium on uranium enrichment has been applied.
The State Department said that in return, the US was ready to proceed with a proposed 240,000 metric-ton food aid package requested by North Korea and that, depending on need, more aid could be agreed to.
The Obama administration also officially stated that the US “reaffirms that it does not have hostile intent toward [North Korea] and is prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship”.
The agreement was met with relief by diplomats and officials over the opportunity of progress, but also with caution due to North Korea’s history of receiving international aid without abiding by agreements.
Secretary of State Hillary, while calling the agreement as “a modest step in the right direction”, cautioned that the US still had “profound concerns” about North Korea’s nuclear programme and behaviour in many areas.
However, US Republicans questioned whether America should be seen as sustaining a North Korean government that has brutally suppressed opposition for decades, become a major arms proliferator and resumed a secret nuclear programme.
IAEA officials said the North’s announcement is “an important step forward” and that they were prepared to return to the country. IAEA inspectors left the country after a 2009 missile test launch.
Analysts called the deal an important preliminary step and said the return of IAEA inspectors would give the world a significant window into North Korea's nuclear progress.
Report: North Korea agrees to nuclear moratorium, IAEA inspections [Reuters, 29 Feb 2012]
Report: N Korea agrees to suspend nuclear tests [Financial Times, 29 Feb 2012]
Report: North Korea Agrees to Curb Nuclear Work; U.S. Offers Aid [NY Times, 29 Feb 2012]
Report: North Korea Pledges New Nuke Freeze [Wall Street Journal, 29 Feb 2012]
China praises North Korean agreement
China on Thursday welcomed North Korea’s agreement. “China welcomes the improvement in relations between North Korea and the US, and the contribution they have made towards protecting the peace and stability of the (Korean) peninsula,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement on the ministry’s website.
Analysis terms development as “welcome news” but cautious on prospects
North Korea’s announcement has been seen as a major concession, according to a BBC analysis, with the US also “playing along”. This development marks progress in the North Korean issue given fears that Kim Jong Un would show his mettle by conducting a missile or nuclear test to mark the mid-April centenary of his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, and also due to the fact that the North has agreed to suspend all nuclear activities and allow IAEA inspectors. But as always, caution was needed and “only time will tell” what the long term outcome will be.
Analysis: North Korea: The denuclearisation dance resumes [BBC, 29 Feb 2012]