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World Powers Give Cautious Welcome To North Korea Announcement

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
World powers are giving a cautious welcome to North Korea's announcement that it has decided to suspend key elements of its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has confirmed that under a new agreement with the United States, it will suspend its uranium-enrichment program, halt nuclear and long-range-missile tests, and permit United Nations nuclear inspectors to monitor the deal.

The United States has agreed in return to provide 240,000 tons of food aid to the impoverished state.

The announcement followed talks in Beijing last week between U.S. and North Korean negotiators.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, announcing the deal to members of Congress on February 29, said the North's commitment was "a modest first step in the right direction."

"The United States, I will be quick to add, still has profound concerns," Clinton added.

"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."

The Russian Foreign Ministry has welcomed the deal as a step toward the resumption of six-party disarmament talks.

The six-party talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia, and Japan.

North Korea abandoned the talks in April 2009 because of what it described as U.S. hostility, and conducted a nuclear test the following month.

China's Foreign Ministry described North Korea's commitment as a step toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.

"We appreciate that the U.S. and North Korea have reiterated that they will carry out their promises related to the September 19 Joint Statement and take positive actions after their talks in Beijing," ministry spokesman Hing Lei said.

"We welcome the U.S. and North Korea in improving their bilateral relations and maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula."

South Korea said the deal followed close efforts by Seoul and Washington to resolve the nuclear standoff.

Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba called it a "significant accomplishment."

"[North Korea] have said they agree to let the [UN] surveillance team return," Gemba added. "They have also promised to take steps toward denuclearization and stopped the launch of short-range missiles -- these are significant accomplishments being made."

North Korea's nuclear announcement came two months after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il.

Some analysts saw it as a possible easing on tensions under Kim Jong Il's son and successor, Kim Jong Un.

But there has been skepticism, as North Korea under Kim Jong Il has repeatedly offered to bargain over its nuclear program -- only to renounce negotiations and press ahead with atomic and missile tests once aid was secured.

With AFP, Reuters and AP reporting