North Korea promised on Monday to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for pledges of aid and security, the first major breakthrough in more than two years of deadlock over the high-stakes crisis.
The unexpected agreement also says the United States will respect the North’s sovereignty and will not attack, a fear Pyongyang had repeatedly said was a main reason for insisting on developing an atomic-bomb programme.
Chief US negotiator Christopher Hill praised the deal, which capped a tough week of talks among six nations — also including China, Japan, Russia and South Korea — which have tried since 2003 to persuade the North to disarm.
”It is a big decision for them, but is absolutely the right decision for them,” Hill said. ”The success or prosperity of the DPRK [North Korea] does not depend on nuclear weapons. In fact, it depends on relations with the others. So, this is a moment which will be very important in their history.”
According to the agreement, the North will renounce all nuclear weapons and programmes, return to the international Non-Proliferation Treaty and allow United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country.
In return, the other nations agreed to ”recognise” the North’s demand for peaceful nuclear energy and said Pyongyang’s request to have a light-water nuclear reactor for peaceful purposes will be revisited ”at an appropriate time”.
Hill said the issue will only be addressed after North Korea rejoins the Non-Proliferation Treaty and allows inspectors back in.
”Talk about the DPRK’s right to peaceful use in advance of them is really to talk theory rather than facts,” he said.
In Vienna, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said inspectors should return to North Korea as soon as possible.
”The earlier we go back, the better,” ElBaradei said.
The energy-starved North’s demand for a light-water nuclear reactor was the sticking point when the talks broke up last month, even though experts have said the country’s crumbling power grid could not handle one.
Song Min-soon, chief delegate of South Korea, said the deal paves the way for the isolated North to become a responsible member of the international community.
”A stepping stone has been prepared for dismantling the Cold War structure and establishing a peace mechanism on the Korean peninsula,” he said.
Hopes had been small of any agreement after what had appeared to be another week of impasse.
But agreement to move forward avoided the immediate possibility of Washington taking the issue to the UN Security Council to press for sanctions, a move opposed by the North’s main backer, China.
North Korea has said such a step would be tantamount to war.
The US has already accused Pyongyang of not holding to a 1994 agreement, and Monday’s deal offers no details on when the various pledges will be met.
It says the goals will be achieved ”at an early date” and progress depends on ”commitment for commitment, action for action”. Another round of talks is set for November.
”The next stage is the implementation of this agreement. A key element will be a verification regime,” said Hill.
The US has indicated that it wants the process to start with a complete and verifiable dismantling of North Korea’s weapons, while Pyongyang has insisted on a step-by-step approach.
In what appeared to be a concession, Washington agreed in the statement to normalise relations gradually with the reclusive communist regime headed by Kim Jong Il, which US President George Bush has called part of an ”axis of evil”.
The international stand-off began when the US accused North Korea in 2002 of running a secret uranium-enrichment programme in violation of the 1994 agreement.
North Korea threw out international inspectors and said it had succeeded in building an atomic bomb.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura of Japan, which has criticised the North over a kidnappings dispute, said Tokyo will ”make its maximum efforts toward a common objective of realising peace and stability in North-East Asia”. — AFP