WASHINGTON – A landmark agreement with North Korea is "a very important first step" toward de-nuclearization of North Korea and the Korean peninsula, Bush administration officials said Tuesday.
The agreement, reached by the United States, China, Russia, Japan and North and South Korea, commits North Korea to suspend immediately and eventually disable its entire nuclear program in exchange for about one million tons of heating fuel oil and other aid.
"That assistance takes the form of humanitarian, economic and energy assistance," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. She said this is part of a "broad and comprehensive effort" not only to de-nuclearize North Korea but to create peace and prosperity in the region.
"The six parties have now taken a promising step in the right direction," Rice told reporters at the State Department. The deal is a "good story of international cooperation and bringing together the right states to bring together the right set of incentives and disincentives."
Rice said the framework will begin with a North Korea shutting down and sealing its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in the next 60 days in exchange for 50,000 tons of aid. The International Atomic Energy Agency will have a free hand in confirming the steps are taken.
In the long run, however, permanent disablement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program will be key.
"Disablement, I think, is what everybody is going to be watching ... disablement is a different kind of step from suspension," she said.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who led the U.S. negotiating team, said other deadlines will be set next month.
"We reached agreement today. It's agreement on initial actions. Obviously, we have a long way to go but we're very pleased with this agreement. We feel that it's a very, very solid step forward."
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow denied the United States is essentially rewarding Pyongyang before it acts, and says North Korea must take affirmative steps before it receives Western aid.
"If they don't abide by the terms, they don't get the benefits they desire," Snow said. The initial aid, he added, will come from allies Russia and China, as well as South Korea initially, so if they cheat, they will have cheated on their allies and not just the United States.
"This is not simply, 'Here, take this and get back to us.' There in fact is an expectation. They not only have to act, they have to do it in a pretty small window. There's a level of accountability here for the North Koreans that has been absent in the past, and if they don't move forward, they don't get the diplomatic recognition they want," he added.
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told a cable news network on Tuesday that he will advise President Bush to reject the deal. While White House officials indicate there's not much chance of that, Bolton said the agreement sends the wrong signal to nuclear wannabes like Iran, that if they hold out long enough they can wear down U.S. negotiators.
"I am very disturbed by this deal," Bolton said. "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."
Bolton said he's frustrated the North Koreans apparently don't have to account immediately for the nuclear bombs they've already made, one of which was tested last October. In addition, the Japanese only reluctantly went along with the deal, despite the fact that North Korea is not required to account for the Japanese citizens it kidnapped, some of whom still are unaccounted.
Asked if Bolton's criticism had substance, Rice responded: "No, I don't." She added that she thought the United States "did very well in this agreement, frankly," but keeping up momentum will be the key to long-term success.
"This is still the first quarter, there is still a lot of time to go on the clock," she noted.
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., has mixed views on the deal in a released statement.
"This deal takes us back to the future. The good news is that it freezes in place North Korea's nuclear program," the statement read. "The bad news is that North Korea's program is much more dangerous to us now than it was in 2002, when President Bush rejected virtually the same deal he is now embracing. ... I hope this deal is not the last step..." Biden's statement read.
Experts say Kim Jong-Il softened after the United States accused him of counterfeiting, and targeted his personal bank account in Macau. That cut off the money used to supply luxury items, including cognac and caviar, and to buy the loyalty of his lieutenants.
North Korea failed to comply with an agreement it made in 2005 and cheated on an agreement it signed during the Clinton administration. Rice added that the discussion on a light water reactor for North Korea in exchange for its cooperation is not on the table.
Snow said the agreement does not remove the threat of economic sanctions that have been authorized by the United Nations.
"There is still a possibility of sanctions through the international community," Snow said. "And there is considerably more leverage on the North Koreans by virtue of the fact that you have the Chinese, the South Koreans, the Japanese and the Russians also involved here. They're answerable not merely to the United States, but in fact to their own neighbors who are significant stakeholders in this."