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North Korea Suspends Nuclear Tests, Will Allow Weapons Inspectors to Yongbon

In a reminder that negotiation and diplomacy is a far preferable course to war and belligerence, North Korea, still in flux after the death of Kim Jong-il, has agreed to suspend its nuclear testing and uranium enrichment, as well as an agreement to allow nuclear weapons inspectors back into the country. In exchange, the North Koreans will receive much-needed aid.

The promises could end years of a standoff that has allowed the North’s nuclear program to continue with no international oversight and are part of a deal that included an American pledge to ship food aid to the isolated, impoverished nation.

Although the Obama administration called the steps “important, if limited,” they signaled that the country’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, is willing to at least engage with the United States. Administration officials have been watching closely to see if he would resort to military provocations to establish his reputation following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, late last year.

North Korea also agreed on a moratorium on launchings of long-range missiles, which have in the past raised military tensions in South Korea and Japan.

Inspectors haven’t set foot in the Yongbon nuclear plant in North Korea in years, so this is a significant concession. But Kim Jong-un has an incentive to show progress to his people rather than mass starvation, and securing the food aid is key to that. The connecting of the food aid to the steps on negotiations on the nuclear program was done at the behest of the North Koreans, according to the State Department.

This isn’t the first time the North Koreans have agreed to steps like this. But as generally the first major announcement on the nuclear front since the ascendancy of Kim Jong-un, it does show some signs of promise. When we talk about the foreign policy successes of the Obama Administration, at the top of the list should be the engagement with Burma, and if this moves on an acceptable path, this agreement with North Korea. Ratcheting down the rhetoric and allowing for negotiations to progress is a far greater legacy than, I don’t know, assassinating from the sky perceived belligerents who happen to be American citizens.

The Administration is moving cautiously but I believe correctly in relation to North Korea.

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David Dayen

David Dayen