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North Korea nuclear moratorium: Will it last?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US “still has profound concerns” about the North Korea nuclear moratorium, even as it considers the agreement “a step in the right direction.”

By Staff writer / February 29, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calls North Korea's agreement to suspend nuclear activities and accept a moratorium on testing "a modest step" in the right direction, as she testified on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, before the House State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs subcommittee.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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WASHINGTON

North Korea’s surprise agreement to suspend uranium enrichment and missile testing in exchange for US food aid relieves tensions in one of the world’s toughest security crises.

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But officials and experts are cautioning that some easily reversible concessions, no matter how extensive, do not necessarily a lasting deal make – especially when it comes to North Korea.

The steps announced by the North Korean government and the State Department Wednesday “could indeed be an initial step on a path towards serious negotiations ... or they could simply be a ploy to get nutritional assistance and meddle in South Korean politics,” says Richard Bush, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on North East Asia Policy Studies in Washington. “North Korea’s record suggests the latter.”

Commenting on the agreement at a House Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US “still has profound concerns” even as it considers the agreed measures “a step in the right direction.”

The US will watch and judge the North Korean leadership by its actions, she added.

The steps announced Wednesday were the result of two days of US-North Korea talks in Beijing last week. US officials initially played down expectations of progress, but now say it was the US offer to resume humanitarian aid – specifically food shipments – that appears to have swayed Pyongyang.

The State Department says the US, under the agreement, will proceed with delivery of 240,000 metric tons of food assistance, with more possible if the need in the chronically underfed nation persists.

For its part, the North agreed to once again allow inspectors from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to monitor activity at its Yongbyon nuclear complex and verify that it is honoring the enrichment moratorium.

The US and North Korea statements did not say when IAEA inspections would begin.

The agreement also calls for resumption of the long-stalled six-party talks – involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia, and Japan – but the announcements gave no date for a new round of negotiations.

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