After months of tense negotiations and a marathon bargaining session in Beijing on Monday, North Korea agreed Tuesday (February 13) to close down its main nuclear reactor and begin dismantling its atomic-weapons program in exchange for approximately $250 million in food and fuel aid.
The deal was brokered four months after the communist country surprised the world with an underground nuclear-bomb test (see "North Korea Claims Nuclear Weapons Test, Defying U.N. Warning"). And though the United States was encouraged by the agreement with its longtime foe, experts predicted it would be hard to monitor, according to an Associated Press report.
It's the first solid plan for disarmament in more than three years of six-nation negotiations, and it could usher in a new era of cooperation in the region with North Korea's longtime adversaries, the U.S. and Japan, who have agreed to discuss normalizing relations.
''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, according to the AP. ''It's a very solid step forward.''
Nuclear experts said that actually making sure North Korea reveals all its nuclear facilities and shuts them down will be difficult considering the country has failed to honor previous agreements by allegedly running a uranium-processing weapons program after it shut down a plutonium-based one. The uranium processing is the issue that sparked the latest round of tension with the West, which began in 2002.
''We don't have an agreement at this point even on the existence of this program, but I certainly have made very clear repeatedly that we need to ensure that we know precisely the status of that,'' Hill said, according to the AP.
Under the terms of the new deal, North Korea would initially receive aid equal to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to help shut down and seal its main nuclear reactor and related facilities north of the capital within 60 days. If the country irreversibly disables the reactor and declares all its nuclear programs it could eventually receive another 950,000 tons in aid.
The agreement also requires that North Korea state all its nuclear programs, including plutonium already extracted.
In an appearance on CNN, Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton hammered the deal and urged President Bush to reject it, saying, ''I am very disturbed by this deal ... 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.''
Assuming North Korea lives up to its promises, it would be the first attempt it has made to scale back its atomic development since kicking out international inspectors more than four years ago. Completion of the terms would also open the door to discussion of diplomatic ties with the U.S., which has agreed to begin the process of ending trade sanctions and removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terror.