N. Korea Agrees to Halt Nuclear Arms Program

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (L) shakes hands with North Korea's chief negotia

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (L) shakes hands with North Korea's chief negotiator Kim Gye Gwan (R) as South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon looks on, Sept. 19, 2005. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters

North Korean officials promise to abandon the country's nuclear weapons program in exchange for oil, energy aid and security guarantees. The agreement was announced in Beijing during six-nation talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Diplomats negotiating over North Korea's nuclear program report what sounds like a breakthrough. In a draft agreement, North Korea promises to abandon its nuclear weapons. In exchange, it would receive energy assistance and security guarantees. The North Koreans are talking with their neighbors and the United States whose chief negotiator is Christopher Hill.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Chief Negotiator, United States): The issue, of course, is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a problem that's been with us for quite a while, a problem that's not yet solved by this agreement but which we hope can be solved eventually.

INSKEEP: That's the chief US negotiator. Now NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been covering the Beijing negotiations and joins us now.

And, Anthony, how big a deal is this?

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

Well, the US, North Korea and the other participants in the talks are all calling it a significant step forward. Of course, if the ultimate goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is not reached, then today's accord will seem sort of insignificant, but these talks have gone on for several rounds already and they were deadlocked after a week of negotiations and the US delegation was all about ready to return home when this accord was signed. There was a feeling that the talks weren't going anywhere. Now there's a feeling that this multilateral approach to dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue can at least get some sort of results.

INSKEEP: In this document that all six parties we're told have signed, have the North Koreans agreed to something specific or just agreed in general to work toward an agreement?

KUHN: Well, they already had an offer from other parties in the talks, that they would receive electricity from South Korea, that they would receive economic assistance and that they'd get a guarantee that Washington would not attack it. However, the talks were deadlocked because they came back and said they also wanted light-water nuclear reactors to generate electricity. The US basically said that they would consider that proposal, they would consider that demand but at an appropriate time later on. So that's not too new.

INSKEEP: Does that mean then that they've just come up with language to keep the talks from collapsing here, Anthony?

KUHN: Well, yes, it means that the process will go on, specifically the talks will reconvene in November, and at that point, they will start talking about the details, for example, how North Korea is going to let UN inspectors back in to verify its disarmament. They're going to begin a process of normalization to establish diplomatic ties between Pyongyang and Washington, and eventually as the US said, they will consider the question of whether the North Koreans have a right to a civilian atomic energy program.

INSKEEP: So the North Koreans have agreed to move on to the next step of talking about the details here. Who has the power to push them to the step beyond that?

KUHN: Well, the US has felt along that the hosts of the six-party talks, the Chinese, have the most leverage over North Korea and certainly today's accord is going to be a feather in China's hat. It'll appear to at least validate the multilateral forum. There had been a feeling all along that China was not using its power and its leverage enough to bring the talks to a conclusion. There was a feeling that they could shut off energy, that they could suspend food aid, but really I think today's accord is going to take some of the pressure off China to persuade North Korea further. Of course, when the talks resume, the US will still be looking to China to push things ahead.

INSKEEP: Anthony, these are diplomatic talks in a closed room, but from public statements that you've seen, do you have any sense of whether these diplomats really feel they've taken a major step forward here?

KUHN: I think people are very cautious about it, Steve. The chief negotiator, Hill, said that verification is going to be key to all the future steps. There's probably a feeling among the diplomats of some relief that the talks did not break down as they appeared to be about to do yesterday and that there may be a way forward, there may be hope for this multilateral process to continue and that those people who've been arguing for a peaceful resolution now have some hope for a way forward.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing.

Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: Thanks, Steve.

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