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N Korea-US deal revives hopes of nuke disarmament talks

North Korea said it would suspend nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and enrichment of uranium.



Washington: North Korea has agreed with the United States to suspend major elements of its atomic weapons program in a surprise breakthrough that could pave the way for the resumption of long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks with the secretive state.

But the announcement, made simultaneously on Wednesday in Pyongyang and Washington and accompanied by pledges of US food aid, was met with very guarded optimism by analysts and diplomats who noted that efforts to defuse tensions on the divided Korean peninsula had seen many false dawns.

"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.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it "a modest first step in the right direction," adding that Washington continued to have profound concerns over a range of North Korean activities.

North Korea said it would suspend nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and enrichment of uranium at its Yongbyon nuclear facility and allow back international nuclear inspectors.

It was not clear how much access inspectors would be allowed nor whether all of its nuclear weapons program would be suspended.

Washington: North Korea has agreed with the United States to suspend major elements of its atomic weapons program in a surprise breakthrough that could pave the way for the resumption of long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks with the secretive state.

But the announcement, made simultaneously on Wednesday in Pyongyang and Washington and accompanied by pledges of US food aid, was met with very guarded optimism by analysts and diplomats who noted that efforts to defuse tensions on the divided Korean peninsula had seen many false dawns.

"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.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it "a modest first step in the right direction," adding that Washington continued to have profound concerns over a range of North Korean activities.

North Korea said it would suspend nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and enrichment of uranium at its Yongbyon nuclear facility and allow back international nuclear inspectors.

It was not clear how much access inspectors would be allowed nor whether all of its nuclear weapons program would be suspended.

Food Aid Gesture

Along with suspending weapons activities, North Korea said it would permit inspectors from the U.N.`s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit its Yongbyon nuclear complex to verify the moratorium on uranium enrichment has been enforced.

The State Department said that in return, the United States was ready to go ahead with a proposed 240,000 tonnes in food aid requested by North Korea and that more aid could be agreed.

The IAEA said it was ready to return, calling the moratorium deal "an important step forward".

South Korea too welcomed the announcement, saying it could be the basis for a broader nuclear agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped North Korea would move towards verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula.

"The Secretary-General also stresses the urgency of meeting the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable people in (North Korea)," his spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.

The US decision to resume food aid was a gesture toward Pyongyang, which has sought international help to cope with chronic food shortages.

It halted food aid to North Korea in 2009 in a dispute over transparency and monitoring, compounding problems that have followed a crippling famine in the 1990s that killed an estimated one million people. The North has been accused in the past of siphoning off aid to feed its army, one of the world`s largest, or even exporting it.

This time, the food aid will be aimed at alleviating chronic malnutrition among young children, pregnant women and other vulnerable people, US officials said.

Young Leader

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 US President Barack Obama visits Seoul for a nuclear security summit in March.

Jack Pritchard, a former US negotiator with North Korea who heads the Korea Economic Institute, 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."

Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group think tank said it was likely there were other uranium enrichment facilities than Yongbyon for military use. He cited intelligence reports that there are two or three such facilities.

"The fact Yongbyon was built so quickly, and is so sophisticated, suggests it is not the first time they have built such a facility."

The announcement followed talks between the United States and North Korea last week in Beijing, the first such meeting since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as leader.

North Korea agreed to curtail its nuclear activities under an aid-for-denuclearization agreement reached in September 2005, 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.

Bureau Report

From Zee News

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