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North Korea offers to suspend nuclear weapons tests, U.S. says

February 29, 2012 |  7:52 am

North Korean leader Kim Jong-UnREPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- North Korea has offered to suspend nuclear weapons tests and enrichment and allow foreign monitoring of its main reactor, U.S. officials said Wednesday, raising hopes that Pyongyang’s new leadership might be open to progress in the long conflict over its nuclear program.

After two days of talks with U.S. officials, the North Korean government also agreed to a temporary halt to launches of long-range missiles as part of a deal under which the impoverished country would receive 240,000 metric tons of food aid.

The State Department said in a statement the steps were “important but limited.”

The United States and allies have been hoping North Korea would take a new approach to the nuclear issue after the death of Kim Jong II last year, who was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un. Many commentators had predicted the new regime would not decide how to approach the issue for some time, while it worked to consolidate its internal support.

But the leadership seemed to have made a significant concession in allowing a return of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who were expelled in 2006 amid friction with world powers.

In its statement, the State Department said it was “prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality” and allow cultural, educational and sports exchanges.

While progress on the issue would be a coup for the Obama administration, U.S. officials struck a note of caution.

“The United States still has profound concern regarding North Korean behavior across a wide range of areas, but today’s announcement reflects important, if limited, progress in addressing some of these,” Victoria Nuland, the chief State Department spokeswoman, said in the statement.

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 -- Paul Richter

Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Credit: KNS/AFP/Getty Images

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