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North Korea agrees to suspend uranium-enrichment program
Updated 2/29/2012 9:13 PM ET
WASHINGTON — Despite the State Department's announcement Wednesday that North Korea has agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment program and long-range missile tests, Obama administration officials stress that the concession marks only modest progress toward its goal of denuclearizing North Korea.

"The United States… still has profound concerns, but on the occasion of Kim Jong Il's death, I said that it is our hope that the new leadership will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by living up to its obligations," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in testimony before Congress. "Today's announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction. We, of course, will be watching closely and judging North Korea's new leaders by their actions."

On its face, the deal blurs the separation of humanitarian aid from nuclear negotiations, said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, GOP chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But White House press secretary Jay Carney said food aid is not contingent on North Korea's agreement to halt its nuclear tests.

President Obama and Clinton have long made clear their desire to send food aid to North Korea with conditions that the aid be dispersed to the marginal groups that are hardest hit by malnutrition. Last summer, the administration put forward a plan that emphasized feeding children, mothers, pregnant women and the elderly.

Until a meeting with U.S. officials in Beijing last week, the North Koreans had declined to let the program go forward and instead demanded large quantities of rice and grain that the U.S. feared could be diverted to North Korea's elites or military.

The North Koreans have now dropped that demand. Under the plan, the U.S. will ship 20,000 tons of food to North Korea each month for a year, according to two senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were speaking about confidential negotiations.

Posted 2/29/2012 9:19 AM ET
Updated 2/29/2012 9:13 PM ET
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un succeeded his father, Kim Jong II, who passed away in December.
AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un succeeded his father, Kim Jong II, who passed away in December.