Published February 13, 2007
BEIJING – It didn't take North Korea long to put its own spin on an agreement reached Tuesday that calls for the Pyongyang regime to close down and cap its main nuclear reactor and eventually dismantle its atomic weapons program.
Just hours after announcing the agreement — which clearly states North Korea must "shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment the Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility" — Pyongyang issued a statement claiming it had agreed only to a "temporary suspension" of its nuclear program.
"At the talks, the parties decided to offer economic and energy aid equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil in connection with the DPRK's temporary suspension of the operation of its nuclear facilities," the Korean Central News Agency said, referring to the country by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Despite Pyongyang's conflicting interpretation of the agreement, all participants of the six-nation talks lauded the apparent breakthrough.
"Obviously we have a long way to go, but we're very pleased with this agreement," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters. "It's a very solid step forward."
President George W. Bush hailed the agreement as "the best opportunity" for diplomacy to succeed in ridding the Pyongyang government of all atomic weapons and capabilities.
"I am pleased with the agreements reached today at the six-party talks in Beijing," the president said in a statement read by his press secretary, Tony Snow.
"I am very disturbed by this deal," Bolton said in a TV interview. "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."
Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was also critical of the agreement.
"This deal takes us back to the future," Biden said in a written statement. "I hope this deal is not the last step, but the first step toward our real goal: the verifiable abandonment of all North Korea's existing and future nuclear programs and weapons."
The agreement comes just four months after the communist state shocked the world by testing a nuclear bomb.
The terms of the deal, brokered by China, provide North Korea with initial aid equal to 50,000 tons heavy fuel oil within 60 days for shutting down and sealing its main nuclear reactor and related facilities at Yongbyon, north of the capital, and that it be confirmed by international inspectors.
For disabling the reactor and declaring all nuclear programs, the North will eventually receive another 950,000 tons in aid.
"If they don't abide by the terms, they don't get the benefits they desire," Snow pointed out earlier.
Making sure North Korea declares all its nuclear facilities and shuts them down is likely to prove difficult, nuclear experts have said.
The deal, however, marks the first concrete plan for disarmament in more than three years of six-nation negotiations, and could potentially herald a new era of cooperation in the region with the North's longtime foes — the United States and Japan — also agreeing to discuss normalizing relations with Pyongyang.
The agreement was read to all delegates in a conference room at a Chinese state guesthouse and Chinese envoy Wu Dawei asked if there were any objections. When none were made, the officials all stood and applauded.
North Korea and United States also will embark on talks aimed at resolving disputes and restarting diplomatic relations, Wu said. The Korean peninsula has technically remained in a state of war for more than a half-century since the Korean War ended in a 1953 cease-fire.
The United States will begin the process of removing North Korea from its designation as a terror-sponsoring state and also on ending U.S. trade sanctions, but no deadlines was set, according to the agreement.
Hill said that Washington also had pledged to resolve financial restrictions against a bank where North Korea held accounts within a month.
Washington's blacklisting of a Macau bank in September 2005 had been an obstacle to nuclear talks, leading the North to a more-than-yearlong boycott during which it tested its first nuclear bomb.
Japan and North Korea also will seek to normalize relations. But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in Tokyo that his country would not yet join in giving aid to the North. Japan has said it wants to resolve the issue of abductions of its citizens that Pyongyang has admitted to but not addressed to Tokyo's satisfaction.
If Pyongyang follows through with its promises, they would be the first moves the communist nation has made to scale back its atomic development after more than three years of six-nation negotiations marked by delays, deadlock and the North's first nuclear test explosion in October.
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.
The deal requires the North to state all its nuclear programs — including plutonium it has already extracted from the Yongbyon reactor, the agreement says.
After the initial 60 days, a joint meeting will be convened of foreign ministers from all countries at the talks — China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas.
Under the agreement, five working groups are to meet within 30 days. Another meeting of the nuclear envoys was scheduled March 19 to check on the groups' progress.
Hill said the North Koreans had insisted that the specific amount of aid they were to receive in the agreement was spelled out during the six-nation negotiations — and not left to a later working group to address — as the U.S. had wanted.
In return, Hill said the negotiators moved to also discuss the next step in disarmament, the actual disabling of the North's programs so they could not easily be restarted.
"We took what was essentially a sticking point and used it as a way to make further progress on the road to denuclearization," he said.
In September 2005, North Korea was promised energy aid and security guarantees in exchange for pledging to abandon its nuclear programs. But talks on implementing that agreement repeatedly stalled on other issues.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.