North Korea announced today it would not test-fire any long-range missiles as long as talks with the United States continue.
The report by the government-run Korean Central News Agency was the first official statement confirming the pledge made during negotiations with the United States in Berlin this month.
It appeared to be timed to coincide with former defense secretary William J. Perry's visit to Seoul and Tokyo to brief officials on his review of U.S. policy toward North Korea. Perry said in Seoul that he was expecting a "definitive statement" about the suspension of missile tests.
North Korea "will not launch a missile while the talks are underway with a view to creating an atmosphere more favorable for the talks," the news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
The spokesman said that if the United States works to improve relations, Pyongyang will "respond with good faith and strive to remove the U.S. suspicions and apprehensions in the interests of the two sides," according to the report.
Perry said in an interview with Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper, that senior U.S. and North Korean officials will meet soon in Washington.
North Korea raised regional tensions when it launched a medium-range missile over Japan last year. Those tensions have increased recently with the presumption that it was planning to test-fire the Taepodong II, a long-range missile capable of reaching Hawaii and Alaska.
After North Korea agreed in the Berlin negotiations to freeze its missile tests, Washington lifted some of the economic sanctions imposed nearly 50 years ago, when North Korea invaded South Korea.
Perry said in a speech in Tokyo today that the agreement between Washington and Pyongyang was a "small step" but one that he believes will lead to "definitive actions in the weeks ahead."
North Korea welcomed the easing of sanctions and said it appeared to be a "reflection of the U.S. political will to stop pursuing its policy hostile to [North Korea]. . . . though it is not comprehensive and came belatedly."
It said the United States should lift the remaining sanctions. Washington still prohibits sales of weapons and goods with military applications to North Korea.
Japan halted food aid and charter flights between the two countries after last year's missile test. Japanese officials said they were waiting for North Korea's moratorium pledge to become "more certain" before lifting sanctions.