Beijing Six countries reached a tentative agreement today on initial steps toward North Korea's nuclear disarmament that could usher in the first concrete progress after more than three years of talks marked by delays, deadlock and the communist country's first nuclear test explosion.
The U.S. envoy to the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, emerged in the early-morning hours today looking weary after a marathon 16-hour negotiating session and announced that a tentative deal had been struck at the latest round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.
The draft agreement contained commitments on disarmament and energy assistance along with "initial actions" to be taken by certain deadlines, Hill said. Working groups will be set up, hopefully in a month, laying out a framework for dealing with regional tensions, he added.
Later today, after a break of several hours, Hill said that the pact had U.S. government support.
"Yes, we've approved it. To the best of my knowledge we've approved it," he said.
Hill added that the North Koreans had seen the same text. The Chinese said the North Koreans "went over every word of it," he said.
North Korean delegates were speaking today to superiors in Pyongyang about the proposal and had not yet made their position known, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing talks.
The New York Times reported that the draft called for North Korea to complete the "permanent disablement" of its main nuclear facilities at Yongbyon within 60 days.
The newspaper said the U.S., South Korea and China would provide aid under the deal. South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the North would receive 500,000 tons of heavy oil and other energy and humanitarian assistance equivalent to that amount.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, harshly criticized the deal and urged President Bush to reject it, saying it made the U.S. look weak.
"I am very disturbed by this deal," he told CNN. "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" to dismantle the nuclear program.