Beijing North Korea agreed to disable its main reactor by the end of October and allow international inspections to verify its nuclear disarmament in a deal reached Saturday at the end of six-nation talks.
In exchange, the United States, China and three other countries promised to complete deliveries of fuel oil and other economic aid to Pyongyang.
The agreement, reached after three days of talks, opens the final phase of long and tortuous efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
"The parties reach an important consensus," said China's envoy, Wu Dawei, as he read out the group's press communique at the end of the meeting.
The envoys from the six nations - which also included South Korea, Japan and Russia - agreed that a verification procedure would include a team of experts who will visit North Korean nuclear facilities, review documents and interview technical experts.
The agreement also allows the nuclear inspectors to call on the International Atomic Energy Agency to help in verification.
Technical details of the verification process still need to be hashed out by a working group, but the six nations hope to agree on specific steps by early September, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said.
"We would like the protocol to be reached within 45 days and, secondly, to begin verification within 45 days. We're anticipating that, and we don't see any obstacles," Hill told reporters after the talks.
The envoys will be gathering later in the month for a regional security forum in Singapore and may hold informal talks there, he said.
The agreement, though not yet complete, signals the start of the final phase of years of on-again, off-again negotiations to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Beyond the October deadline for disabling North Korea's main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, the agreement did not set a timetable for full disarmament. But President Bush is believed to be eager to see North Korea disarmed before he leaves office in January.