North Korea agrees to nuclear moratorium
AFP and Reuters, Wednesday 29 Feb 2012
North Korea agrees to suspend nuclear activities as it accepts a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests in exchange for US aid

North Korea confirmed Wednesday it has agreed to a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests and a suspension of its uranium enrichment programme in return for US food aid.

It said Washington had promised 240,000 tonnes of "nutritional assistance", with the prospect of additional food aid, at talks between the two sides in Beijing last week, in a statement on the official news agency.

The US side made a similar simultaneous announcement in Washington.

The North said it would allow the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment.

It said the US side offered to discuss the lifting of sanctions and provision of light-water reactors to generate electricity as a priority, once six-party nuclear disarmament talks resume.

On its part, the IAEA watchdog said it stands ready to return to North Korea. Its chief, Director General Yukiya Amano, saying "as I have said before, the agency has an essential role to play in verifying (North Korea's) nuclear programme."

"Pending further details, we stand ready to return to Yongbyon to undertake monitoring activities upon request and with the agreement of the agency's Board of Governors," he said, referring to the 35-nation body that meets next week.

He called the US statement about its recent talks with North Korea "an important step forward."

The Beijing talks were aimed at persuading the North to return to the six-nation talks which it abandoned in April 2009.

The enrichment programme, first disclosed in November 2010, could give the North a second way to make atomic weapons in addition to its longstanding plutonium programme.

The North "agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests, long-range missile launches, and uranium enrichment activity at Yongbyon and allow the IAEA to monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment while productive dialogues continue", a foreign ministry spokesman told the official news agency.

Pyongyang carried out nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and is believed to have enough plutonium to make six to eight nuclear weapons.