North Korea and the United States have taken a step back from nuclear confrontation after the reclusive Communist state agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons programme in return for foreign fuel aid.
The deal, reached at six-party talks in Beijing, was hailed by the US President George Bush as "the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea's nuclear programme". His spokesman described it as a "very important first step" towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
But amid bitter memories of similar agreements that later fell apart, there were suspicions that impoverished North Korea had successfully blackmailed the world without totally renouncing its nuclear weapons programme. Announcing the agreement yesterday, the official Korean Central News Agency said that Pyongyang had only agreed to a "temporary suspension" of its nuclear facilities.
Under the pact, reached after week-long negotiations involving the US, North and South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, Pyongyang agreed to mothball its Yongbyon reactor complex in return for $300m ([pound]154m) worth of aid. South Korea, China, the US and Russia - but not Japan - will provide 100,000 tonnes of fuel oil or an equivalent value of economic or humanitarian aid.
Japan, which has taken a tough line towards North Korea since the election of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year, said it would not provide heavy fuel oil until the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea since the 1970s was resolved.
One Bush administration hawk, the former UN ambassador John Bolton, criticised the decision to "reward" North Korea. "It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world," he told CNN yesterday. …