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Kim's death stalls deal to freeze uranium enrichment, officials say

From Elise Labott, CNN
updated 4:22 PM EST, Mon December 19, 2011
Satellite images obtained by a nuclear security think tank last year show a uranium enrichment facility in North Korea.
Satellite images obtained by a nuclear security think tank last year show a uranium enrichment facility in North Korea.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The prospective deal was to have been announced this week
  • North Korea would get nutritional aid in exchange for halting uranium enrichment
  • Pyongyang needs to show it's still interested, officials say

Washington (CNN) -- A possible exchange of U.S. nutritional aid to North Korea for a halt to Pyongyang's uranium enrichment program has stalled with the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, U.S. and South Korean officials said Monday.

The prospective deal was expected to lead to the resumption of six-party disarmament talks, after which North Korea would have expected a larger amount of food aid, the officials told CNN. The announcement had been slated for this week, they said.

But with the news that Kim died of a heart attack over the weekend, the announcement has been delayed, the officials said. The Obama administration now believes that the ball is in the North Koreans' court, and they will need to signal whether they're still interested, according to the officials.

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State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters that U.S. officials had been scheduled to discuss the proposed deal further on Monday, but those talks were put off after North Korea announced Kim's death.

"We want to be respectful of the North Korean period of mourning," Nuland said. "We will obviously need to engage at the right moment."

In addition to halting its production of enriched uranium, which can be used to build nuclear weapons, North Korea also would have let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency return, the U.S. and South Korean officials said.

North Korea conducted nuclear weapons tests in 2006 and 2009. The six-party talks among the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, Russia and China, aimed at convincing the North to denuclearize, have been stalled since 2008.

In 2009, after the United Nations condemned a North Korean missile test, Pyongyang kicked out IAEA and U.S. inspectors who had been monitoring its Yongbyon nuclear plant.

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