After arduous talks, North Korea agreed yesterday to shut down its main nuclear reactor and eventually dismantle its atomic weapons program, just four months after Pyongyang shocked the world by testing a nuclear bomb.
The deal marks the first concrete plan for disarmament in more than three years of six-nation negotiations. The plan also could potentially herald a new era of cooperation in the region with the North's longtime foes -- the US and Japan -- also agreeing to discuss normalizing relations with Pyongyang.
Under the deal, the North would receive initial aid equal to 45,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil for shutting down and sealing its main nuclear reactor and related facilities at Yongbyon, north of the capital, within 60 days, to be confirmed by international inspectors.
For irreversibly disabling the reactor and declaring all nuclear programs, the North will eventually receive another 860,000 tonnes in aid.
The agreement was read to all delegates in a conference room at a Chinese state guesthouse and Chinese envoy Wu Dawei (
"This round of six-party talks marks an important and substantial step forward," Wu said earlier. "The six-party talks not only will benefit the peace, stability and development of the peninsula, but also serve to improve the relations of related sides and also benefit the building of a harmonious northeast Asia."
If Pyongyang goes through with its promises, they would be the first moves it has made to scale back its atomic development since the talks began in 2003 after the North kicked out international inspectors and restarted its sole operating nuclear reactor.
Making sure that Pyongyang declares all its nuclear facilities and shuts them down is likely to prove arduous, nuclear experts have said.
North Korea has sidestepped previous agreements, allegedly running a uranium-based weapons program even as it froze a plutonium-based one -- sparking the latest nuclear crisis in late 2002. The country is believed to have countless mountainside tunnels in which to hide projects.
Already before its adoption, the deal drew strong criticism from John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, who urged US President George W. Bush to reject it.
"I am very disturbed by this deal," Bolton told CNN. "It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world: `If we hold out long enough, wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded,' in this case with massive shipments of heavy fuel oil for doing only partially what needs to be done."
Under the agreement, North Korea and US will embark on talks aimed at resolving disputes and restarting diplomatic relations, Wu said. The Korean Peninsula has remained in a state of war for more than a half-century since the Korean War ended in a 1953 ceasefire.
The US will also begin the process of removing North Korea from its designation as a terror-sponsoring state and also on ending US trade sanctions, but no deadlines have been was set, according to the agreement.
Japan and North Korea also will seek to normalize relations, under the agreement.
But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in Tokyo that his country would not contribute aid to the North until the issue of the abductions of its citizens by North Korea is resolved.
Pyongyang has admitted to abducting Japanese citizens, but not to Tokyo's satisfaction.
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