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North Korea agrees to halt nuclear activities for food

By Jamie Crawford, CNN National Security Producer
March 1, 2012 -- Updated 0054 GMT (0854 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The White House says North Korea must now carry out the moratorium
  • The deal was reached after talks in Beijing
  • It was the first meeting since the death of Kim Jong Il
  • Secretary Clinton noted glimmers of progress on North Korea after the meeting

Washington (CNN) -- North Korea has agreed to halt nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and enrichment activities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for food aid from the United States, the State Department said Wednesday.

The state-run North Korean news agency, KCNA, announced the agreement separately.

"Today's announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction. We, of course, will be watching closely and judging North Korea's new leaders by their actions," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday before the House Appropriations Committee.

In return for the moratorium on nuclear activities at this key site, the United States has agreed to a package of 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance to North Korea.

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According to State Department officials who briefed reporters on condition of not being identified, the nutritional assistance will include corn-soy blend, beans, vegetable oils and ready-to-eat therapeutic food.

There will be intensive monitoring to assure that the delivery is made to those in need and not diverted to the military or government elites, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

"The DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) 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," Nuland said.

KCNA published comments from a spokesman for North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying the latest deal is part of an effort to improve relations between the two countries.

"The U.S. reaffirmed that it no longer has hostile intent toward the DPRK and that it is prepared to take steps to improve the bilateral relations in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality," the spokesman said, according to the news agency.

"The U.S. also agreed to take steps to increase people-to-people exchanges, including in the areas of culture, education, and sports," the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said.

The White House echoed Clinton's comments, with press secretary Jay Carney telling reporters that North Korea must demonstrate it is implementing the moratorium on nuclear activities at Yongbyon before further progress can occur.

"Commitments are one thing, following up is another," Carney said.

Wednesday's announcement comes just after Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, returned from a meeting in Beijing with a North Korean delegation to discuss the North's nuclear program and the possibility of resuming U.S. food assistance to the country.

It was the first meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials since the December death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the transition in leadership to his son Kim Jong Un.

Davies described the talks as "substantive" when they ended Friday but did not announce any breakthrough at that point. From Beijing, he traveled to South Korea and Japan to brief officials on the discussions. He also met with Chinese officials before departing Beijing.

The State Department officials who briefed reporters said the North Korean regime deserved credit for reaching out so soon after Kim Jong Il's death.

"It shows that the new ... administration in Pyongyang is picking up where the previous one left off. And that's great; that's good," one State Department official said. "And they're doing it within the 100-day mourning period that's self-declared in North Korea. So it shows that they're interested with some alacrity to reach out, to get back to the table, and begin to try to make diplomatic progress, and I think that's a positive sign."

In an interview with CNN in Morocco last weekend, Clinton said she saw glimmers of progress after the meetings between Davies and the North Korean delegation. "We've always said that we are willing to talk," she said. "This is the first time that, under this new leader, we've had this opportunity, and we'll follow through."

The latest development follows years of stalemate and tension surrounding North Korea's nuclear program.

Pyongyang agreed to curtail its nuclear activities in exchange for aid in an agreement reached in the so-called six-party talks in September 2005. Under the plan, the North agreed to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic incentives.

The deal fell apart after North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and later disclosed a previously unknown uranium enrichment program that provided a second path to a bomb in addition to the already known plutonium program.

CNN's Tom Cohen and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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