| US assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill (left) with South Korean deputy foreign minister Song Min-soon (centre) and North Korean chief negotiator Kim Gye Gwan in Beijing after the talks. (AP)
Beijing, Sept. 19 (Reuters): North Korea promised to give up its nuclear weapons programme today, defusing a high-stakes crisis, but sceptics said the deal hammered out in Beijing was long on words and short on action.
South Korea, the US, Japan, Russia and China ' the other players in the six-party talks ' in exchange expressed a willingness to provide oil, energy aid and security guarantees.
Washington and Tokyo agreed to normalise ties with the impoverished and diplomatically isolated North, which pledged to rejoin the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“The joint statement is the most important achievement in the two years since the start of six-party talks,” said Chinese chief negotiator Wu Dawei.
The seven-day session ended with a standing ovation by all delegates.
South Korea’s unification minister, Chung Dong-young, went further, saying the agreement would serve as a first step toward dismantling the Cold War confrontation between the two Koreas.
But in Washington, President George W. Bush said Pyongyang’s compliance must be verified even as he cautiously welcomed the agreement.
Bush said a promise by North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme was a “step forward in making this world a more secure place.”
But he added: “The question is, over time, will all parties adhere to the agreement'”
Bush said it was important the North Koreans “understand we’re serious about this and that we expect there to be a verifiable process.”
Washington has been sceptical of any accord with Pyongyang since accusing the communist state of cheating on a deal to freeze its nuclear programmes in the 1990s.
Japan’s chief delegate at the talks, Kenichiro Sasae, said: “We must secure specific agreements regarding the implementation of the agreed principles, particularly the specific sequence toward realisation of the abandonment of nuclear programmes by North Korea and verification measures.”
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog welcomed the deal and hoped it would lead to an early return of UN inspectors to North Korea.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Mohamed ElBaradei, in an apparent reference to Iran, which is defying the international community by insisting it pursue its nuclear programmes, said in Vienna the accord showed dialogue could work in solving nuclear standoffs.