North Korea's announcement of a nuclear moratorium seems at first glance to be a diplomatic success for the US government but caution is of the essence, says DW's Daniel Scheschkewitz.
North Korea has been working on its nuclear development program for at least 20 years. Over and over again, it has made promises to the international community. Over and over again, it has broken them, preferring to use its nuclear capacities as a means of blackmail.
Let's recall: In October 1994, North Korea made an agreement with the US to freeze its nuclear program. Less than 10 years later, Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In 2005, the regime once again agreed to give up its weapons in return for aid. Just one year later, it shocked the world by conducting its first nuclear test. In 2009, it conducted a second test and walked out of the international six-party talks with South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
At the same time it revealed it was enriching uranium shortly after expelling inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Thus North Korea had entered the exclusive club of nuclear powers and even worse was the fear it was supplying its knowledge and perhaps even enriched uranium to Iran.
Ever since, the international community has been in suspense regarding North Korea's nuclear program. It is this and not the amount of nuclear weapons which makes the situation so dangerous.
The danger has by no means been eradicated with the announcement of a moratorium on nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and the testing of long-range missiles that could reach the US.
On the contrary - the regime knows how easy it is to blackmail the world with its program.
There is one single reason for the fact that North Korea now seems prepared to make concessions - the country has been teetering on the brink of famine for years and urgently needs international food aid. North Korea's industrial output has fallen by two-thirds since 1990. The United Nations estimates that there are over a million people who are at risk of hunger.
Kim Jong Un has been running North Korea since his father Kim Jong Il died at the end of last year. It is still a matter of speculation whether the country's atomic policy will change now that there has been a transition of power. Nothing of North Korea's nuclear program was mentioned at the ceremonies after Kim Jong Il's death; instead, food shortages were a wide topic of debate.
This is evidently the only effective point of departure if negotiations about North Korea's nuclear program are to be sustainable. Moreover, by agreeing to conduct bilateral talks, the US has now met one of North Korea's longstanding wishes.
The international community has to put the seriousness of North Korea's proposal to the test. IAEE inspectors should be allowed to return as soon as possible and should have irrevocable access to the Yongbyon plant where the regime is enriching uranium. They should be able to make unannounced inspections.
This should be an important precondition for restarting the six-party talks and for negotiating North Korea's return to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Only then will one be able to talk about a real breakthrough. However, North Korea's nuclear program is akin to Pandora's Box - once evil has been unleashed, it is hard to regain control.
Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz/act
Editor: Sarah Berning