Report: North Korea caves on nuke program? Update: Iran wants to make a deal?

Verum Serum is all over this. Only one paper’s reporting it, but that paper, Chosun Ilbo, happens to be the biggest in South Korea. Is Bush going to drop a bombshell tomorrow night at the SOTU?

From Tass’s report:

Pyongyang has agreed to suspend all its activities in the nuclear sphere, including its reactor in the Yongbyon research centre and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts to conduct monitoring of its atomic facilities as the first step towards dismantling its nuclear programme. Such agreements were reached at talks in Berlin between the US and North Korean chief negotiators at the six-sided Korean Peninsula denuclearisation talks, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported here on Monday.

During the consultations held in Berlin in recent days, head of the North Korean delegation Kim Gye-gwan told US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher R. Hill that in exchange for this move the North hopes to get from the United States economic and energy assistance, as well as guarantees that Washington will unfreeze North Korea’s accounts in Banco Delta Asia in Aomen (Macau) worth 24 million US dollars.

A “high-level Iranian delegation” was in Pyongyang last Thursday. An eleventh-hour bid to get Kim to reconsider? If the story pans out and there’s a move towards detente with NK, we’d have a sweet carrot to dangle in front of the Iranian people, who aren’t real thrilled with their leadership to begin with these days.

Update: Another respectable newspaper with a dubious report: the Times of London quotes sources close to Khamenei as saying he might agree to western oversight of the country’s nuclear program.

Tehran sources said the impetus for a policy switch was coming from Khamenei, who has ultimate power over Iran’s foreign policy, security and armed forces.

Khamenei is said to believe that Washington’s aim is not only to halt Iran’s nuclear programme but to overthrow the regime.

He also considers the national interest is being undermined by an inexperienced president whose rhetoric is unnecessarily inflammatory.

Under proposals now being debated, an international group made up of the permanent five members of the UN security council, plus Germany or a nuclear power such as India, would oversee and monitor Iran’s nuclear programme.

It’s probably just another stalling tactic — for instance, they announced today that 38 UN inspectors have been barred from the country — but the internal opposition to Ahmadinejad seems to be for real and Khamenei won’t want to get dragged down with him. I think it’s telling that Ayatollah Montazeri, the chief dissident cleric in Iran, was allowed to unload on “Mahdi” last Friday at Qom:

“Some countries don’t have oil and gas. Yet, they run their country and stand on their own,” he said, according to a copy of his words seen by AP.

“We have so much oil and gas but make useless expenditures work for others and don’t think of our own people’s problems and the price of basic commodities goes higher and higher every day.”

He complained that people kept on shouting slogans about nuclear rights, but he asked: “Don’t we have other rights too?”

It was a pointed reference to concerns about diminishing freedom of speech in Iran under Mr Ahmadinejad, says the BBC’s Frances Harrison in Tehran.

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri also launched a scathing attack on the president’s handling of the economy.

He said some claimed inflation was only 13% in Iran, but everyone knew the cost of housing had risen more than 50%.

Shimon Peres is enjoying it. A lot.