On February 29, the U.S. State Department announced that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) has agreed to implement a moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions, long-range missile launches and other nuclear activities, including enrichment at its Yongbyon nuclear complex and to allow U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors in to ensure compliance.
North Korea is the only country that has conducted nuclear test explosions in the past decade, with tests in 2006 and 2009.
The State Department also said that the United States had agreed to finalize details of a proposed food aid package and to take other steps to improve bilateral ties. According to the State Department statement, the United States reaffirmed that the United States “… does not have hostile intent toward the DPRK and is prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality.”
"The United States still has 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,” said the Department’s spokesperson Victoria Nuland in the Feb. 29 statement.
Concerns still remain, but the news, which follows a Feb. 23-24 round of exploratory U.S.-DPRK bilateral talks in Beijing, is clearly a very welcome and important development.
The prospect of reestablishing a verifiable freeze of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs is all the more important in light of recent reports of further nuclear testing and the acceleration of North Korea's uranium enrichment program. Here are several reasons why:
As South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Jan. 2, the Korean peninsula is “at a turning point.” Doing nothing in the face of the risk of new and more dangerous North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities is not an option.
Today’s announcement is an important step toward a verifiable freeze of the most worrisome North Korean nuclear activities and is good news for the global nuclear test moratorium and the CTBT.
President Barack Obama and Amb. Glynn Davies–the U.S. point-man on the DPRK–need to maintain the momentum in the weeks and months ahead.