BEIJING – Pyongyang on Wednesday committed at nuclear negotiations to disable its main reactor by the end of the year, while South Korea expressed satisfaction after the first summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in seven years.
In an agreement between the U.S. and regional powers at China-hosted arms talks, the North also said it would also give a "complete and correct declaration" of all its nuclear programs by Dec. 31, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei said in Beijing.
The move would be the biggest step North Korea has taken to scale back its nuclear ambitions after decades seeking to develop the world's deadliest weapons.
Previously, the North had only frozen its arms programs under a 1994 deal with the U.S. But it quickly restarted production of weapons-grade plutonium at its main nuclear complex after the beginning of the latest atomic standoff in 2002, leading to its first-ever test nuclear explosion in October 2006.
President Bush on Wednesday hailed the agreement for North Korea to detail its nuclear programs and disable its main reactor complex, a key step toward what the United States hopes will be a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
Bush said the announcement reflected the "common commitment" of the six-party talks to shut down North Korea's nuclear program. The countries are North Korea, the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan.
Bush said the deal "will help secure the future peace and prosperity of the Northeast Asian region."
The United States has agreed to lead disablement activities and provide the initial funding for them. Washington also reiterated its willingness to remove North Korea from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a key demand of Pyongyang.
No timetable was set for this action, but the joint statement said it will happen "in parallel with" the North Korean government following through on its commitment.
"The two sides will increase bilateral exchanges and enhance mutual trust," the statement says.
On Friday, in anticipation of the new agreement, the United States also announced it would spend up to $25 million to pay for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil for North Korea. The February agreement calls for the parties to provide North Korea with 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil, or the monetary equivalent in other aid and assistance, in return for the first two phases of action by Pyongyang.
Pyongyang shut down its sole operating reactor at Yongbyon in July after the U.S. reversed its hard-line policy against the regime, the first tangible progress from years of talks that also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
Earlier Wednesday at the summit between leaders of the North and South, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said he was "satisfied with the outcome of the talks," his spokesman Cheon Ho-seon told the reporters in comments relayed from Pyongyang.
The sides were to draft an agreement by Thursday morning, Cheon said.
Roh "raised almost all agenda items that we have brought" and added there had been progress in every area they wanted to discuss — including establishing peace on the Korean peninsula, economic cooperation, reconciliation and cooperation, the spokesman said, according to pool reports.
There were no details on what the agreement would include. South Korean officials had repeatedly refused before heading to Pyongyang to give any specifics of what they sought at the meeting beyond vague talk about bolstering "peace and prosperity" on the peninsula.
The comments came after Roh and Kim held nearly four hours of talks Wednesday at the second-ever summit between leaders of the North and South.
Kim proposed at one point to continue the summit for an extra day but later withdrew the offer, saying there had been sufficient discussion between the sides. Roh did not have a chance to respond to the extension proposal, Cheon said, but had earlier indicated it would be difficult.
"As we had enough dialogue, we don't need to extend" the summit, Kim said, according to South Korean pool reports. The leaders shook hands at the end of their meetings, both appearing cheerful in video relayed from Pyongyang.
Roh said he had sought common ground with Kim at the talks.
"We didn't reach consensus on everything. There were parts on which our perceptions coincided, and there were other parts" on which the perceptions didn't coincide, Roh said at a luncheon with the South Korean delegation during a pause in the summit.
"However, what I clearly confirmed is that (Kim) has a firm will about peace and there was consensus that there should be an agreement this time that presents a future direction about peace," Roh said.
Roh acknowledged that the North, one of the world's most isolated nations, was taking a cautious approach in opening up to its capitalist neighbor.
"North Korea still has some skepticism about the South, and doesn't trust it enough," Roh told the luncheon. "We have to make more efforts to further tear down this wall of distrust."
He also said the North expressed regret that the international standoff over its nuclear weapons programs had prevented greater economic cooperation with the South.
As the summit started Wednesday, Roh and Kim briefly mentioned recent floods in the North that left about 600 people dead or missing and tens of thousands homeless and prompted North Korea to delay the summit from its original August date.
Before the talks at a state guesthouse in Pyongyang, Roh presented the North Korean leader with gifts including a bookcase full of South Korean DVDs, featuring popular soap operas and productions starring Lee Young-ae, believed to be Kim's favorite starlet.
Kim appeared animated and smiled repeatedly Wednesday as he greeted Roh — a contrast from his dour demeanor Tuesday, when the two first met briefly at an outdoor welcoming ceremony after the South Korean president arrived by road in Pyongyang.
Roh later watched a Wednesday evening performance of the North Korean propaganda spectacle known as the "mass games." Such shows feature thousands of synchronized gymnasts, and a giant mural formed by children turning colored pages of books.
Conservatives have criticized Roh for going to the show, which extols the purported virtues of the North's Communist regime.