North Korea to suspend nuclear activity in exchange for food: 5 key questions

North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, has agreed to stop nuclear and long-range missile tests, end uranium enrichment, and allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agents to inspect the Yongbyon nuclear complex.  In return, the United States will release a food-aid package. The long-awaited agreement could lead to the resumption of six-nation disarmament negotiations.

A “food for nukes” deal with the US was under consideration before former president Kim Jong-il died in December 2011. Here are five key questions on the link between food and nuclear weapons in North Korea:           

Im Chung/Yonhap/Reuters/File
Workers load packs of rice as food aid for flood-stricken North Koreans onto a ship at a port in Gunsan, about 168 miles south of Seoul, in this October 2010 file photo.

1. How did aid first get linked to North Korea's nukes?

Aided by years of Soviet nuclear assistance, North Korea began building a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor in 1979 at Yongbyon, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  It was not until late 1985, however, that the country declared the existence of the facility to the IAEA as a condition of joining the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Nearly 20 years after joining the NPT, North Korea threatened to quit, setting off an 18-month crisis. In the spring of 1994 US President Bill Clinton signed an Agreed Framework with the country to put its nuclear ambitions on hold in exchange for US aid. This came after the US considered a strike against the nuclear facility and pushed the United Nations for sanctions on North Korea.

A light water reactor, unable to produce weapons-grade plutonium, was promised to North Korea as a part of the Agreed Framework for giving up its nuclear weapons. Construction on the project has since been suspended. In 2003, North Korea officially quit the NPT.

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