Washington: The United States is poised to announce a significant donation of food aid to North Korea this week, the first concrete accomplishment after months of behind-the-scenes diplomatic contacts between the two wartime enemies. An agreement by North Korea to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment programme will likely follow within days.
   
A broad outline of the emerging agreement has been made known to a news agency by people close to the negotiations.
   
Discussions have been taking place since summer in New York, Geneva and Beijing. They already have yielded agreements by North Korea to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile testing, readmit international nuclear inspectors expelled in 2009, and resume a dialogue between North Korea and South Korea, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the negotiations.
   
Suspension of uranium enrichment by North Korea had been a key outstanding demand from both the US and South Korea of the North, which has tested two atomic devices in the past five years. Food talks in Beijing yielded a breakthrough on uranium enrichment, they said.
   
The announcement of the food aid, expected to take place as early as Monday in Washington, not only would be welcome news for North Korea, but also pave the way for another crucial US-North Korea meeting in Beijing on Thursday. That meeting in turn could lead within weeks to the resumption of nuclear disarmament talks that would also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
   
The so-called six-party talks were last held three years ago, and resuming them would amount to a foreign policy coup for the Obama administration.
   
The US would provide 2,40,000 tons of high-protein biscuits and vitamins -- 20,000 tons a month for a year – but not much-wanted rice, according to reports in the South Korean media. It would be the first food aid from the US in nearly three years.
   
Negotiators have sought for two decades to convince North Korea to dismantle its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which the government insists exists to generate much-needed power.

But plutonium can be used to make atomic bombs, and North Korea also stands by its right to develop missiles to defend itself against the nuclear-armed United States.
   
In 2009, North Korea tested a missile capable of reaching US shores, earning widespread condemnation and strengthened UN sanctions.

(Agencies)