U.S. Lauds North Korea Nuke Deal

The United States on Wednesday lauded an agreement for North Korea to acknowledge its nuclear programs and disable all activities at its main reactor complex, with the White House calling it significant progress toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

"President Bush welcomes today's announcement," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House's National Security Council. "These second-phase actions effectively end the DPRK's production of plutonium - a major step towards the goal of achieving the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

Johndroe was referring to the official name for North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and to a February agreement reached between Pyongyang and five other nations - the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan. In the first phase of that agreement, Pyongyang was required to shut down and seal its Yongbyon reactor facility, which it did in July. The second phase required it to disable its sole functioning reactor at Yongbyon and provide a full description of all its nuclear programs.

Wednesday's agreement calls for that to happen by the end of the year.

In return, the United States will remove North Korea from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a key demand of Pyongyang. No timetable was set for this action and is dependent upon the North Korean government following through on its commitment.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. nuclear negotiator with North Korea, told a Tuesday news conference in New York that President Bush had agreed to a joint statement proposed by China at the end of six-party talks last weekend.

Speaking at the Foreign Press Center, Hill said at the time that he expected all other parties to the Korea talks to sign on to the joint statement, which should be released in Beijing in the next few days.

The multiparty talks on North Korea have dragged on for four years. But if the initiative ultimately is successful, it would roll back a nuclear program that a year ago allowed North Korea to detonate a nuclear device and that experts say may have produced more than a dozen nuclear bombs.

North Korea is required to disable its sole functioning reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for economic aid and political concessions under a February deal reached through the six-party talks. Japan said Wednesday it will not join other countries in giving aid to North Korea, citing an ongoing dispute over past abductions by the communist regime.

In July, the North closed Yongbyon, as well as other facilities, ahead of their disablement.

Once there is a six-party agreement, Hill said Tuesday, the U.S. expects the process of disabling the reactor to get under way "in a matter of weeks." The U.S. wants the dismantling process so thorough that a nuclear facility could not be made operational for at least 12 months.

"We will then be able to move to what we hope will be a final phase," Hill said. "That is in the calendar year 2008 which will deal with the actual abandonment of the fissile material."

Hill said the North has about 110 pounds of fissile material harvested from the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, and will have to declare exactly how much. The U.S. also wants to resolve concerns about the North's uranium enrichment program, he said.

Earlier Wednesday, South Korea expressed satisfaction after the first summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in seven years.

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 during the meeting 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.

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.

He also said the North expressed regret that the international standoff over its nuclear weapons programs had prevented greater economic cooperation with the South.

On Wednesday evening, Roh became the first South Korean to attend a 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.

Kim Jong Il, however, did not attend, sending instead his deputy, the country's nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam. It was not immediately clear why Kim was absent.