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Resources on the February 2012 US-DPRK Talks

On February 29, 2012, the US and North Korea announced that North Korea would suspend its enrichment program at Yongbyon and impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests in return for 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance and improved relations with the United States. The announcement followed the third round of US-DPRK exploratory talks held in Beijing from February 23-24.

Primary Sources

US State Department announcement

KCNA statement, quoting the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

Text of State Department background briefing to journalists

Statement from ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Statement from Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Remarks from the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Hillary Clinton's remarks before Congress on the announcement

Hillary Clinton's remarks with South Korean foreign minister Kim Sung-hwan, March 9

Robert King remarks to media after Beijing talks on nutritional assistance, March 8

Glyn Davies remarks to media after Bejiing summit, Tokyo, February 26

Reactions from Members of Congress

Letter from Senators Jon Kyl, James Inhofe, Marco Rubio, John Cornyn, and James Risch to Secretary Clinton stating that the deal is evidence of "a policy of appeasement with Pyongyang," and requesting information on aspects of US food aid to North Korea.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) says that the announcement violates the Obama administration's pledge not to provide food aid to North Korea in exchange for promises of denuclearization.

Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) congratulates Secretary Clinton on "the great coincidence" of the US supplying North Korea with 240,000 metric tons of humanitarian aid as North Korea announces its nuclear moratorium (video).

Congressman Howard Berman commends Secretary Clinton on "an important step on a long and difficult path," adding that "we’ve been down this road before, and it remains to be seen whether the North will keep its promises this time.”

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) says the announcement "sounds a lot like the failed agreements of the past."

Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) warns that "Years of getting duped by North Korea should tell us that verification on their turf is extremely difficult, if not impossible."

Analysis

Victor Cha, Ellen Kim, and Marie Dumond characterize the announcement, in a March 2 CNN article, as a modest step forward, despite the history of unsuccessful negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program.

We have seen this playbook several times before in our 25-plus year history of trying to denuclearize North Korea. The United States gets pulled into providing food or energy indefinitely to maintain the nuclear freeze. The North Koreans eventually cheat on the freeze and undertake augmentation of their nuclear weapons at other undisclosed facilities. We stop providing the assistance. A hair-raising crisis ensues that is ultimately resolved through another assistance-for-freeze agreement. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Political types might condemn it as insanity, naiveté or both. But there may be some common-sensical reasons for doing this. Practically speaking, the achievement of a nuclear and missile-testing moratorium, as well as the reintroduction of the U.N. nuclear-watchdog agency inspectors into Yongbyon, is a useful step.

Ralph Cossa writes in the Korea Times on March 5 that the US has achieved limited progress, but not a breakthrough.

It appears that Washington's "strategic patience" in dealing with the North may finally be paying some dividends. But the real strength of this approach was that Washington and Seoul remained in lockstep throughout the process. The U.S. needs to proceed cautiously, in a way that continues to validate both its own and Seoul's cautious approach to the North. If we can do this, then a real breakthrough may one day be possible.

Gordon Flake speaks to The Diplomat on February 29 about the announcement:

It’s still early, but this agreement does hold forth the prospect of creating an environment in which the necessary steps and comprises necessary to return to the Six-Party Talks is possible. There’s clearly more to be done. If the freeze and other steps are implemented as announced, they represent classic necessary but not sufficient conditions for resuming the talks. It’s unimaginable that the talks could resume as long as North Korea was still moving forward with its uranium enrichment program, and testing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. With the freeze, and the positive reaffirmation of commitments to the September 19, 2005, joint statement of the Six Party Talks, we are certainly several steps closer to resuming those talks.

Andrew Natsios, writing in the Washington Post on March 8, points to the pitfalls of linking humanitarian and security issues:

Between 2007 and 2009, the U.S. Agency for International Development shipped food aid in monthly installments, and when the North Koreans violated the monitoring system — which happened twice — the next shipment was stopped. The North became enraged and shut down the program. But now the North Koreans might walk out of the talks if USAID enforces the strict monitoring protocols just negotiated, because they see the food aid as their reward for returning to talks — not as assistance to feed the poor and powerless.

Marcus Noland and Steph Haggard dissect the State Department and KCNA statements on February 29:

Tucked in these last three paragraphs [of the KCNA article] are a world of subtle and not so subtle differences [from the State Department article]. First, the US makes no mention of lifting sanctions or providing LWRs; at least the North Koreans recognize that the best they are going to get in that regard is a discussion of the issue. The US does not actually state that the talks will resume or continue, even if it is implied; the wait and see posture continues. The statement of the nuclear concessions does mirror that of the US, but with a kicker: these concessions will hold only so long as “productive dialogue continues.”

David Straub and Siegfried Hecker discuss the announcement in a February 29 interview:

How do you assess the agreement? Where does the moratorium put relations between the U.S. and North Korea?

Hecker: The moratorium demonstrates that North Korea is once again interested in diplomacy with the United States. The fact that they are willing to halt the nuclear operations at Yongbyon, especially the uranium enrichment activities, is a big step in the right direction. I believe the U.S. now wants to achieve a permanent halt to all nuclear weapons activities in North Korea, then roll them back, and eventually achieve complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Straub: There is no perfect deal when it comes to North Korea, but overall I think it is worth giving this one a chance. It will probably slow down the pace of nuclear and missile development in North Korea. In addition, it will give us time to explore whether there is any prospect that the new leadership in North Korea may be willing to take a different, more positive approach toward the United States and South Korea than its predecessors.  If history is a guide, the likeliest outcome is that after a period of several months to a few years the six-party talks will again break down, after which North Korea will create a new crisis.

Audio/Video

Balbina Hwang and Don Gregg discuss the implications of the talks on the PBS News Hour on February 29.

Marcus Noland discusses the announcement and the prospects for future steps in a February 29 interview with Peterson Perspectives.

Philip Yun tells the Washington Post on March 1 that the announcment is a good "first-step" between the US and North Korea.