White House: North Korea nuke agreement is a ‘positive step’

The White House said Wednesday that North Korea’s agreement to a moratorium on its nuclear testing is a “positive first step” to denuclearizing the Korean Penninsula.

But Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) charged the Obama administration with breaking a U.S. policy connecting North Korean nuclear disarmament with nutritional aid.

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In announcing the agreement Wednesday morning, the State Department also said it will provide 240,000 metric tons of food to North Korea. The department reportedly stressed that the food was not directly connected to the nuclear agreement.

“In announcing its agreement with North Korea, the Obama Administration is effectively violating long-standing U.S. policy not to link North Korean denuclearization commitments to food aid,” Kyl said in a news release. “This policy was affirmed by the State Department as recently as February, when it stated in a letter to me that ‘the Administration has no intention of rewarding North Korea for actions it has already agreed to take.’ In an October 2011 letter, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns also assured me that ‘any engagement with North Korea will not be used as a mechanism to funnel financial or other rewards to Pyongyang.’”

Kyl said he was “deeply disappointed” by the way the State Department handled the agreement.

“This is just par for the course for an administration that has a demonstrated record of misleading Congress and disregarding U.S. national security,” he said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney denied that the food assistance was connected to denuclearization.

“The food assistance is not a quid pro quo,” Carney said at Wednesday’s press briefing. “The fact is the United States is and is always concerned about the potential for famine in countries around the world.  And we had discussed providing food aid last year to North Korea, and this is a continuation of that.”

Carney said while the nuclear agreement from the North Koreans was welcomed, it needs to be followed up with actions.

“Commitments to do something are one thing; actually doing them are another,” Carney said.

He said the agreement is a step toward resuming six-party talks with North Korea, but reiterated that North Korea has to uphold the agreements it has made.

“Our starting point is we expect continuity in behavior from the North Korean leadership,” Carney said. “But it is also the case that the new leadership has agreed to take specific confidence-building measures which were announced today, and we view that as a positive step.”