The agreement was announced on September 2 after two days of bilateral talks in Geneva.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who led the U.S. delegation, said that North Korea will provide "a full declaration of all of their nuclear programs and will disable their nuclear programs by the end of this year, 2007."
Hill said the deal came after two days of what he described as “very good and very substantive” talks. He added that North Korea’s commitment covered both its plutonium and uranium enrichment programs.
North Korea’s chief negotiator, Kim Gye Gwan, speaking at a separate news conference, confirmed the substance of the agreement, although he did not mention any deadline. "We're happy for the way the peace talks went," Kim said. "We showed a clear willingness to declare and dismantle all nuclear facilities."
The End of a Crisis?
If Pyongyang follows through on its apparent commitment, the North Korean nuclear crisis -- which has dragged on for more than five years -- could soon come to an end.
But it remains a big “if,” according to North Korea expert Aidan Foster-Carter of Britain’s Leeds University. Foster-Carter says that caution is warranted for two main reasons. The chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, has a tendency to inflate expectations; and secondly, North Korea doesn’t have a good record of keeping promises.
Hill is "a very skilled negotiator," Foster-Carter says. "He's the person who got the process going. But he does talk it up, absolutely, relentlessly. That’s part of his style -- even while he also points out how difficult it is sometimes with the North Koreans. So, if indeed this happens, it will be wonderful. We need to see."
There have been encouraging recent signs that North Korea is in a conciliatory mood. It has shut down its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon and allowed UN nuclear inspectors back into the country.
But Foster-Carter says key questions remain. Among them: how advanced is North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program, and will Pyongyang really make a full declaration of its capabilities in this regard?
In Libya's Footsteps
Renewed six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, due to resume in Beijing later this month, may yield more answers.
Ultimately, Foster-Carter says everyone would like to see North Korea follow Libya’s example. But he remains skeptical that Pyongyang has arrived at that point.
"We all hope that [North Korean President] Kim Jong Il might 'do a Qaddafi,' as we call it," he said. "Libya, at a certain point, decided it didn't like being an international pariah and it really was going to give up the whole lot. And every weapon of mass destruction Libya apparently ever had is now sitting in Tennessee, I read somewhere. I don't believe the North Koreans are ready to do that yet."
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced today that in return for its cooperation on the nuclear issue, Washington would remove Pyongyang from the U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism.
There was no immediate confirmation from Washington.