food aid

North Korean guide Kim Won Ho, right, speaks to a foreign journalist near a photo depicting the 2009 satellite rocket launch at the Three Revolutions exhibition hall in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea accused the U.S. of hostility on Tuesday for suspending an agreement to provide food aid following Pyongyang’s widely criticized rocket launch, and warned of retaliatory measures in response.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also rejected the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of Friday’s launch of a long-range rocket as “unreasonable,” and reasserted the nation’s right to develop a civilian space program.

North Korea fired a three-stage rocket Friday over the Yellow Sea in defiance of international warnings against what the U.S. and other nations said would be seen as a violation of bans against nuclear and missile activity.

North Korean officials called the launch a peaceful bid to send an observation satellite into space, timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary Sunday of the birth of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. The launch was a failure, with the rocket splintering into pieces less than two minutes after takeoff.

Condemnation was swift, with the U.S. and others calling it a covert test of rocket technology that could be used to fire a long-range missile fitted with a nuclear warhead.

Washington immediately halted a plan brokered in February to provide North Korea with much-needed food aid in exchange for a suspension of its nuclear and missile programs.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday it was difficult to say whether the North’s latest statement could indicate whether its “opaque regime” was readying a nuclear test.

“In the past there’s been a pattern of bad behavior,” he told a briefing in Washington. “We can’t preclude anything at this point.”

On Monday, the U.N. Security Council, including North Korea ally China, condemned the rocket launch as a violation of resolutions prohibiting North Korea from ballistic missile and nuclear activity, and directed its sanctions committee to strengthen penalties against the country.

Toner reminded North Korea of its obligations under the resolutions, and said the Security Council’s statement Monday made clear it was determined to take further action if North Korea conducts another rocket launch or nuclear test.

Responding to the Security Council’s condemnation, North Korea accused the U.S. on Tuesday of leading a campaign to deny its right to develop its defense and civilian space programs.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry vowed to press ahead with its space ambitions, and warned it would no longer adhere to the February agreement with the U.S.

“We have thus become able to take necessary retaliatory measures, free from the agreement,” the ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “The U.S. will be held wholly accountable for all the
ensuing consequences.”

“Peace is very dear for us but the dignity of the nation and the sovereignty of the country are dearer for us,” the statement said, without specifying what countermeasures North Korea might take.

North Korea also faced U.N. Security Council condemnation after launching a long-range rocket in 2009, and walked away from six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations in protest.

Weeks later, North Korea conducted a nuclear test, its second, and revealed it had a uranium enrichment program that could give scientists a second source for building atomic weapons.

BEIJING — U.S. envoys are finalizing arrangements for the first U.S. government food aid shipment to impoverished North Korea in three years.

Special envoy Robert King and senior aid official Jon Brause said talks Wednesday would aim to ensure proper procedures and safeguards are in place to make sure that nutritional aid for about 1 million North Koreans gets to those who need it most. The program is focusing on vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and the elderly.

An agreement was reached last week for a resumption of shipments in exchange for North Korea agreeing to freeze nuclear activities and allow the return of U.N. nuclear inspectors.

The last handouts ended abruptly in 2009 when North Korea expelled U.S. food monitors.

SEOUL, South Korea — Surprise and skepticism met the announcement that North Korea would freeze most nuclear activities in exchange for food aid from the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. officials will closely watch North Korea carry out its promises to suspend uranium enrichment at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, stop long-range missile and nuclear tests and allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to return.

Both sides call the steps confidence-building measures to improve relations between the U.S. and North Korea, and recognized the 1953 Korean War armistice as a “cornerstone” of peace on the Korean peninsula.

Some key questions and answers about the agreement announced late Wednesday:

Q: What is North Korea’s motivation for reaching this deal?
A: Ensuring stability. As Kim Jong Un becomes the third-generation Kim to lead the nation, North Korea’s leadership is keen to resolve potentially destabilizing issues, including the U.S. military presence in South Korea and chronic food shortages.

The Korean peninsula has been in a technical state of war since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953, and a peace treaty with the U.S. is a key foreign policy goal for North Korea.

Food shortages in the country are chronic. Sanctions were imposed in 2006 and tightened in 2009 after two nuclear tests, and aid promised in exchange for disarmament was halted. That meant less food and resources, and harsh weather has also cut into the meager agricultural output.

The North Koreans would like to raise the issue of lifting those sanctions in future talks.

Q: What does this agreement say about Kim Jong Un’s fledgling rule?
A: This deal is the clearest sign yet that the foreign policy laid out during Kim Jong Il’s rule will be carried out under Kim Jong Un, and suggests a measure of stability and continuity in Pyongyang two months after his father’s death.

After the provocations of 2009, including the launch of a long-range missile and a nuclear test, North Korea’s foreign policy on the U.S. shifted dramatically in 2010. After Kim Jong Un was revealed during a special Workers’ Party conference in September 2010 as his father’s chosen successor, the policy toward the U.S. veered noticeably toward engagement and away from provocation.

Starting in July 2011, North Korean and U.S. diplomats met at least three times to hash out the details of a far-reaching agreement on offering food in exchange for nuclear concessions.

The Associated Press reported in December they were on the verge of signing the deal when Kim Jong Il’s death put those negotiations (of food aid for dearmament) on hold. That the North Koreans returned to the negotiations before the end of the semiofficial 100-day mourning period indicates unity.

Q: What are North Korea’s current nuclear capabilities?
A: North Korea tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009 and is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight “primitive” atomic bombs, according to U.S. scientist Siegfried Hecker at Stanford University. In 2009, North Korea claimed it would begin enriching uranium, a second way to make atomic bombs, and revealed the facility to Hecker and North Korea expert Robert Carlin during a November 2010 visit.He says North Korea is not producing plutonium at the moment, but there’s little information about whether they’ve made highly enriched uranium or tried to build a bomb using it.

Q: How effective will the agreement be in curtailing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities?
A: Hecker says he has advised the U.S. government to think about three points: No more bombs, no better bombs and no exports. The suspension of uranium enrichment will limit its ability to make more bombs, while the moratorium means it won’t be able to test its devices. U.N. inspectors are to be allowed back into North Korea’s facilities to verify it is adhering to the agreement.

Q: Will North Korea ever rid itself of nuclear weapons?
A: Skepticism is widespread that North Korea will ever give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea has always cited the U.S. military presence in the region as a main reason for its drive to build atomic weapons, and having nuclear weapons to protect against the U.S. threat has always been a key source of pride for the North Koreans.

That said, North Korea insists that a nuclear-free Korean peninsula remains a goal.

Q: If this deal proceeds as expected, what will be the next step in improving relations between North Korea and the U.S. and its allies?
A: U.S. and North Korean officials must meet to discuss the technical details of distributing food aid, a tricky issue since Washington wants to be sure the food goes to malnourished children and not to the elite or the military. Next, North Korea must reach out to the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow the return of inspectors who were expelled in 2009.

The issue of tensions between the two Koreas, particularly blame for the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, remains unresolved as does the matter of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Both have been obstacles to resuming the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks that also involve China and Russia.

Q: How and when will the U.S. food aid arrive?
A: U.S. officials and non-governmental organizations say experts will have to be on the ground in North Korea before food delivery begins. Aid groups say that could take anywhere from several weeks to months. Washington and Pyongyang have promised another meeting “soon” to finalize details about a proposed initial package of 240,000 metric tons of food aid, with the potential for more down the road.

It may not, however, arrive in time for the big celebrations in April to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. Associated Press writer Foster Klug contributed to this report. Follow AP’s Korea bureau chief Jean Lee at twitter.com/newsjean and Foster Klug at twitter.com/APKlug.

Printed on Friday, March 2, 2012 as: North Korean nuclear deal raises particular question