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North Korea agrees to suspend nuclear activities (+video)

North Korea agreed to suspend nuclear weapons tests and uranium enrichment, and allow in international inspectors, according to the US State Department. The US will provide food aid.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / February 29, 2012

North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan (l.) is greeted by Guan Huabing, second from right, minister counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, at Pyongyang airport in North Korea, Monday. Kim, North Korea's top nuclear envoy, returned from nuclear talks with the US in Beijing.

AP

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Seoul, South Korea

The US announced a possible watershed agreement with North Korea today under which the US will supply food to North Korea while the North calls a moratorium on nuclear and missile programs and admits inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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The new US envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies, came through with the agreement in two days of talks in Beijing last week with North Korea’s veteran envoy Kim Kye-gwan, who had requested the meeting.

The deal at once raised hopes for genuine reversal of a confrontation that, if anything, had seemed to be worsening in recent days while North Korea fired off rhetorical barrages denouncing annual US-South Korean military exercises that began on Monday.

Analysts, however, are far from certain the agreement will really work, or whether North Korea will abide by all the pledges in the agreement.

 “It’s worth giving it a try,” says David Straub, former State Department Korea desk officer, but “all the steps are readily reversible.”

Although Mr. Davies reaffirmed the US policy of not tying humanitarian aid to the nuclear issue, the crux of the agreement is that the US will supply 240,000 tons of “nutritional” food aid and North Korea will call a moratorium on its entire nuclear program, including testing of nuclear devices and long-range missiles.

Optimism on hold

Mr. Straub, now associate director of Stanford University's Korea program, notes that North Korea could decide to test a long-range missile or conduct a third nuclear test at any time. North Korea hinted at this possibility, says Straub, in its own announcement of the deal in which it states that it will keep its pledges as long as talks are productive.

A major question, says Straub, is the degree to which the rise of a new North Korean “supreme leader,” Kim Jong-un, played into the agreement. Nonetheless, Mr. Kim is believed to have been involved in the agreement regardless of who in the North Korean hierarchy was responsible for it.

 “We don’t know the leadership dynamics,” says Straub. The test will be “whether it’s possible to create a new cycle with the new government.”

The White House also withheld optimism about the deal.

The US still has “profound concerns regarding North Korean behavior across a wide range of areas,” said the official statement, “but today’s announcement reflects important, if limited, progress in addressing some of these.”

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