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)