The United States announced a major diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea Wednesday.
Under an agreement reached in direct talks in Beijing last week, North Korea has agreed to allow the return of nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile tests, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities, the State Department said. In return, the United States will provide North Korea with a large food aid package.
"To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to de-nuclearization, the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a press statement Wednesday. "The DPRK has also agreed to the return of IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and confirm the disablement of the 5-MW reactor and associated facilities."
Despite the stunning breakthrough, "the United States still has profound concerns regarding North Korean behavior across a wide range of areas," Nuland's statement cautioned, but added that "today's announcement reflects important, if limited, progress in addressing some of these."
In return, the United States will "move forward with our proposed package of 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance along with the intensive monitoring required for the delivery of such assistance," she said.
U.S. envoy on North Korean affairs Glyn Davies last week held the first face-to-face talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Gwan since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il in December.
Davies' Feb. 23-24 discussions in Beijing asserted several points, Nuland's statement said. Among them, "the United States reaffirms that it does not have hostile intent toward the DPRK" and that U.S. sanctions are not targeted against the livelihood of the North Korean people.
Arms control experts welcomed the signs of progress from Washington's efforts to engage Pyongyang, despite years of tumultuous, on- and off-again negotiations that have seen many harrowing setbacks.
"Today's announcement is an important step toward a verifiable freeze of the most worrisome North Korean nuclear activities," Daryl Kimball, of the Arms Control Association, wrote in an analysis of the announced agreement. "President Barack Obama and Amb. Glyn Davies ... need to maintain the momentum in the weeks and months ahead."