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North Korea Will Abandon Nukes But Agreement Sets No Deadline

By Joseph Kahn 
and David E. Sanger


After a tense weekend of heated debate within the Bush administration, the lead American negotiator with North Korea made one last call back to Washington and reluctantly signed a statement of principles that committed North Korea, in black and white, to give up “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.”

But the vaguely-worded agreement left unaddressed the date when disarmament would happen, and hinted at a concession to North Korea that President Bush and his aides have long said they would never agree to: discussing “at an appropriate time” providing North Korea with a civilian nuclear power plant, which would keep that nation in the nuclear business. All day on Monday, the Bush administration said the appropriate time was after North Korea dismantled all its nuclear facilities and allowed full inspections. On Monday evening, less than 24 hours after the deal was signed, North Korea declared that the United States “should not even dream” that it would dismantle its nuclear weapons before it receives a new nuclear plant.

As described by participants in the talks, Bush only agreed to even discuss providing a nuclear plant after China turned over a draft of an agreement and told the Americans they had hours to decide to take it or leave it. The North Koreans — dependent on China for food and oil — were unhappy but ready to sign.

“They said ‘Here’s the text, and we’re not going to change it, and we suggest you don’t walk away,”’ said one senior American official at the center of the debate.

Several officials, who would not allow their names to be used because they did not want to publicly discuss Bush’s political challenges, noted that Bush is also dealing with Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.