North Korea Agrees to Curb Nuclear Work, US Says

Washington – North Korea agreed to suspend nuclear weapons tests and enrichment and allow international inspectors to verify and monitor activities at its main reactor, the State Department announced on Wednesday, as part of a deal that included an American pledge to ship food aid to the isolated, impoverished nation.

Although the Obama administration called the steps “important, if limited,” they signaled a potential breakthrough in the impasse over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program following the death late last year of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-il. He has since been replaced by a son, Kim Jong-un, and administration officials have been watching closely to see if his rise to power would alter the country’s behavior. North Korea also agreed on a moratorium on launches of long-range missiles, which have in the past raised military tensions in South Korea and Japan.

North Korea’s agreement to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to return to the country appeared to be a significant concession. After years of negotiations, North Korea expelled inspectors and went on to test a nuclear bomb in 2006.

Two days of talks in Beijing last week initially appeared to have produced few concrete results, but after the North Korean negotiators returned home, the country’s leaders responded positively to American offers to resume international negotiations — and deliver the food aid — provided the country agreed to the steps announced on Wednesday. In a statement, the State Department said that in exchange the United States was “prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality” and to allow cultural, educational and sports exchanges with North Korea.

The United States also agreed to provide 240,000 metric tons of food aid, which has been under consideration for years. Officially, the Obama administration has refused to link the food aid directly to progress in talks, saying it would be decided purely on humanitarian grounds. But the North Koreans insisted on the aid being part of any agreement, and the United States relented.

The State Department’s announcement did not say when the moratorium would begin, when international inspectors would return to North Korea or when talks would resume between North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

“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,” the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said in the statement.

This article, “North Korea Agrees to Curb Nuclear Work, US Says,” originally appeared at the New York Times News Service.