Nuclear weapons programme halted in return for food

  • @cliffordcoonan

North Korea has agreed to halt its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for US food aid, in a surprise breakthrough in the first talks between the two countries since the death of Kim Jong-il and the succession of Kim Jong-un.

A joint statement was issued simultaneously by North Korea's official KCNA news agency in Pyongyang and by the State Department in Washington yesterday.

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

North Korea will also allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at the Yongbyon nuclear plant and confirm the disablement of the reactor.

The news was welcomed by President Barack Obama, and the US said it was ready to prepare final details of a proposed aid package of 240,000 tonnes of food, and that more food aid could be agreed if needed.

While the news counts as a major development in securing peace on the North Korean peninsula, there have been breakthroughs before, only for North Korea to pull back on agreements when tensions ratcheted higher.

Few analysts had expected any movement on the nuclear issue so soon after the ascent to power of Kim Jong-il's young and untested son, Kim Jong-un.