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North Korea agrees to nuclear pause in exchange for food

By Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers –

WASHINGTON — North Korea will suspend long-range missile launches, nuclear weapons tests and activities at its key nuclear site, including the enrichment of uranium, as part of an agreement under which it will receive desperately needed food aid from the United States, the two countries announced Wednesday.

The surprise breakthrough, reached in talks last week in Beijing between U.S. and North Korean negotiators, appeared to raise the prospects of resuming long-stalled international negotiations on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The deal is a “modest first step,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Senate committee.

If implemented, the deal would signal a major policy shift by North Korea — known officially as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — after the death of dictator Kim Jong Il from a heart attack in December and the accession of his son, Kim Jong Un. North Korea has refused for nearly four years to suspend its nuclear activities.

“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,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will return to the Yongbyon nuclear complex to monitor compliance with the accord, Nuland said.

The deal gives President Barack Obama a boost just weeks before he joins some 50 other heads of state in South Korea to review progress on his initiative to lock up the world’s nuclear weapons materials by the end of 2014.

But the accord carries potential risks for Obama. The North Koreans have a history of reneging on agreements, and if they do so again here, the Republican candidates who are vying to challenge Obama for the presidency in November are almost certain to seize on it.

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