The United States on Wednesday welcomed North Korea's decision to suspend uranium enrichment work as well as its nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for food aid, saying it marks the first positive step toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
"These are concrete measures that we consider a positive first step toward complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner. But obviously they need to be followed up by actions. So, we will pursue this policy area with that approach in mind," White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a press briefing.
North Korea announced a moratorium on its nuclear tests, uranium enrichment, and long-range missile tests earlier on Wednesday, following a third round of talks with the United States in Beijing last week.
In a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry confirmed the move and said they were "aimed at building confidence for the improvement of relations" between the two countries.
Stressing that "productive dialogues" on the issue would continue, the Foreign Ministry added that the decision to suspend uranium enrichment and to halt nuclear and missile tests was taken "upon request by the U.S. and with a view to maintaining positive atmosphere for the DPRK-U.S. high-level talks."
Separately, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Congressional hearing that the North Korean announcement was "a reminder that the world is transforming around us," and added: "We, of course, will be watching closely and judging North Korea's new leaders by their actions."
In return to the North's subsequent positive gesture, Washington has agreed to meet with North Korean officials in the immediate future to finalize administrative details necessary to move forward with its proposed package of 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance with the prospect of additional aid based on continued need.
The U.S.-North Korea talks held in the Chinese capital last week were aimed at convincing the North to rejoin the currently stalled international aid-for-nuclear disarmament negotiations. During the talks, the U.S. had reaffirmed that it "does not have hostile intent towards the North and is prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality."
Soon after North Korea announced its decision, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said its inspectors were ready to return to the North's nuclear facilities to monitor the moratorium on request from Pyongyang.
North Korea had pulled out of the Six-nation negotiations, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, in April 2009 despite agreeing in 2005 to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for aid during an earlier round of negotiations in Beijing.
North Korea's withdrawal from the talks came after the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) condemned the Communist State for launching a rocket and imposed sanctions on several of its firms. The North insisted it had launched only a communications satellite, but the U.S. and its allies believe Pyongyang had test-fired a long-range missile under the pretext of launching a satellite into space.
North Korea reacted to the U.N. sanctions by expelling U.S. nuclear experts and IAEA inspectors monitoring the Yongbyon nuclear complex, conducted a nuclear test in May 2009 and test-fired several ballistic missiles. The UNSC responded to the North Korean actions by slamming tougher sanctions on the impoverished country.
Prior to walking out of the negotiations, Pyongyang began dismantling the Yongbyon nuclear plant in June 2008 by blowing up the reactor's main cooling tower as a symbol of its commitment toward denuclearization. The Yongbyon plant was then being used for plutonium processing work.
Diplomatic efforts to restart the Six-party talks gained momentum last year, but the death of North Korea's long-time leader Kim Jong-il on December 17 had left prospects for resumption of talks uncertain. The international community has since been keenly watching the North's untested new leader Kim Jong-un, who took over the regime after the death of his father Kim Jong-il.
The developments come amid escalating tensions in the Korean peninsula, triggered by the "unprovoked" shelling of a South Korean border island by the North in November 2010 and the alleged torpedoing of a South Korean naval vessel by the North earlier that year. The two nations technically remain at war even now, as the Korean war ended in an armistice in 1953, and not a peace treaty.
by RTT Staff Writer
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