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North Korea suspends nuclear programs for U.S. food aid

John Dimsdale Feb 29, 2012

Kai Ryssdal:There was an ever-so-slight thaw in relations between the United States and North Korea today. In return for Washington starting up aid shipments again — food, in particular — North Korea agreed to suspend its nuclear weapons program and allow international inspections. You can put this one in the “Hey, sometimes sanctions do work” column. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale has the story.

John Dimsdale: North Korea has agreed to a moratorium on nuclear weapons and long range missile tests. In return, the U.S. will begin shipping food aid to the famine-strickened country.  So was it the food that brought the North Koreans around? Jack Pritchard, a former U.S. representative at talks with North Korea, doesn’t think so.  


Jack Pritchard:  It’s relatively modest, 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance.  Now what that is is fortified biscuits and things meant for babies, small children, of  that nature.  It is not an attractive food substitute in terms of grain that the North Koreans would want. 

So maybe North Korea is eager for an end to economic sanctions, which the U.S. and its allies imposed after Pyonyang confirmed nuclear weapons tests in 2006. But Pritchard says the sanctions were not very effective.

Pritchard: The safety valve for North Korea with regard to the biting of the sanctions has been China.  They’ve allowed a lot of things to go through to North Korea, so the North Koreans have not been hit hard by the sanctions. 

Instead, he says this agreement is an attempt by the new 20-something leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, to establish some political credentials at home.

Pritchard: A sense there may be a period of normalcy that’s going on now.  So it was important for political reasons.  Not for food, not for sanctions, not for threats.

Will this agreement lead to further breakthroughs? Marcus Noland at the Peterson Institute for International Economics sees reason for hope.

Marcus Noland: I think it’s a good sign that the first political move of the new leadership in Pyongyang is a conciliatory move and not a belligerent move.  The alternative to having an agreement could have been waking up one morning in a few months and finding out they had done another nuclear test.  So this is obviously a preferable outcome.

Both the White House and State Department said today’s agreement is “positive,” but only a first step toward a permanent shutdown of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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