North Korea Takes ‘Positive First Step’ on Nukes, Official Says

WASHINGTON, Feb. 29, 2012 — The North Kore­an gov­ern­ment has agreed to stop all nuclear activ­i­ties at its main pro­duc­tion and test­ing plant and to allow the return of inspec­tors, in a move a Defense Depart­ment offi­cial described as a pos­i­tive step toward denu­cleariza­tion of the com­mu­nist state.

The North Kore­an leadership’s deci­sion “is a pos­i­tive first step toward com­plete and ver­i­fi­able denu­cleariza­tion of the Kore­an Penin­su­la in a peace­ful man­ner, which remains our core goal,” Pen­ta­gon spokes­woman Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde said in a writ­ten state­ment. “The only way to achieve that goal is through a delib­er­ate process that requires engage­ment.”

The State Depart­ment made the announce­ment today as a U.S. del­e­ga­tion returned from bilat­er­al talks with North Kore­an offi­cials in Bei­jing. It was the third such round of talks between the two nations.

“To improve the atmos­phere for dia­logue and demon­strate its com­mit­ment to denu­cleariza­tion, [North Korea] has agreed to imple­ment a mora­to­ri­um on long-range mis­sile launch­es, nuclear tests and nuclear activ­i­ties at Yong­by­on, includ­ing ura­ni­um enrich­ment activ­i­ties,” accord­ing to a State Depart­ment state­ment.

The North Kore­an del­e­ga­tion also agreed to the return of Inter­na­tion­al Atom­ic Ener­gy Agency inspec­tors to ver­i­fy and mon­i­tor the mora­to­ri­um on ura­ni­um enrich­ment activ­i­ties at Yong­by­on, and to con­firm the dis­able­ment of the 5-MW reac­tor and asso­ci­at­ed facil­i­ties, the state­ment says.

State Depart­ment offi­cials said U.S. offi­cials “still have pro­found con­cerns regard­ing North Kore­an behav­ior across a wide range of areas, but today’s announce­ment reflects impor­tant, if lim­it­ed, progress in address­ing some of these.”

They went on to say that U.S. offi­cials agreed to meet with the North Kore­ans to final­ize admin­is­tra­tive details for deliv­ery of 240,000 met­ric tons of food aid, “along with the inten­sive mon­i­tor­ing required” for the deliv­ery of such assis­tance.

Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, com­man­der of U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand, told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee yes­ter­day that he would be skep­ti­cal of any over­tures from North Korea, and that he would not expect major changes in North Korea under the lead­er­ship of Kim Jong Un, who came to pow­er in the fall after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

In a call with reporters today, a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial who spoke on back­ground said Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma “has been con­sis­tent in sig­nal­ing that we will respond pos­i­tive­ly if North Korea choos­es the path of nego­ti­a­tion, coop­er­a­tion and denu­cleariza­tion.”

North Korea’s agree­ment this week “begins the process of walk­ing back” provo­ca­tions that led to the break­down of six-par­ty talks, the offi­cial said. “This agree­ment opens the door to seri­ous nego­ti­a­tions to achieve irre­versible steps” toward denu­cleariza­tion, she said.

U.S. offi­cials will con­tin­ue to empha­size the need for North Korea to pur­sue rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with South Korea, the offi­cial said. About 30,000 U.S. troops are based in South Korea, a lega­cy of the 1950–53 war between the North and South.

As part of the bilat­er­al talks, State Depart­ment offi­cials said, U.S. offi­cials:

— Reaf­firmed that the Unit­ed States “does not have hos­tile intent toward [North Korea] and is pre­pared to take steps to improve our bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship in the spir­it of mutu­al respect for sov­er­eign­ty and equal­i­ty”;

— Said the Unit­ed States rec­og­nizes the 1953 armistice agree­ment as the “cor­ner­stone of peace and sta­bil­i­ty” on the Kore­an penin­su­la;

— Said the Unit­ed States is pre­pared to take steps to increase peo­ple-to-peo­ple exchanges, includ­ing in the areas of cul­ture, edu­ca­tion, and sports; and

— Said U.S. sanc­tions are not tar­get­ed against the liveli­hood of the North Kore­an peo­ple.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)