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(photo credit: AP)
North Korea's announcement Tuesday that it would shut down its main nuclear reactor and eventually dismantle its nuclear program in return for aid provides hope that the same type of deal could be cut with Iran, senior Israeli officials said Tuesday.
North Korea's decision shows that economic sanctions have an impact, Vice Premier Shimon Peres said on a tour of the Galilee with European ambassadors. "This shows the international community that, if they are united, there are a number of options."
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, at a briefing with The Jerusalem Post editorial staff, termed the North Korean decision "very important" because it would likely lead other countries to ask Iran to follow Pyongyang's example.
"I think this will have a worldwide impact, especially on Iran," he said. "We can be slightly, slightly more optimistic now about the chances to pressure Iran and get it to dismantle, or at least postpone its projects. We can be slightly more optimistic today than yesterday."
The deal, coming after arduous talks and just four months after North Korea shocked the world by testing a nuclear bomb, marks the first concrete plan for disarmament in more than three years of six-nation negotiations.
The plan could also open a new era of cooperation, with North Korea's longtime foes - the United States and Japan - agreeing to discuss normalizing relations with Pyongyang.
"Obviously we have a long way to go, but we're very pleased with this agreement," US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters. "It's a very solid step forward."
Despite the seeming agreement, skepticism abounds whether Pyongyang will declare and abandon all its nuclear programs.
North Korea sidestepped a 1994 agreement with Washington, likely never fully accounting for all the potential bomb-making plutonium it refined. Even as North Korea froze that plutonium program, Washington accused it of running a separate uranium-based weapons project, sparking the latest nuclear crisis in late 2002.
The country is believed to have countless mountainside tunnels in which to hide projects.
"We don't have an agreement at this point even on the existence of this (uranium) program, but I certainly have made very clear repeatedly that we need to ensure that we know precisely the status of that," Hill said.
Under the deal, the North would receive initial aid equal to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil for shutting down and sealing its main nuclear reactor and related facilities at Yongbyon, north of the capital, within 60 days, to be confirmed by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.
Once it irreversibly disables the reactor and declares all nuclear programs closed, the North will eventually receive another 950,000 tons in aid.
One million tons of oil would be equivalent to more than two-thirds of North Korea's entire oil consumption in 2004, according to the CIA Factbook. Hill said the aid package was worth about $250 million.
"The six-party talks not only will benefit the peace, stability and development of the peninsula, but also serve to improve the relations of related sides and also benefit the building of a harmonious Northeast Asia," said Chinese envoy Wu Dawei, who announced the agreement.
If Pyongyang goes through with its promises, they would be the first moves the communist nation has made to scale back its atomic development since it kicked out international inspectors and restarted its sole operating nuclear reactor in 2003.
Hill said North Korea miscalculated world reaction when it tested a nuclear device in October.
"I think they understand that these nuclear weapons, far from being a means of security or prestige, have really acted to isolate North Korea as never before," Hill told The Associated Press.
North Korean officials did not comment immediately, but a report in the communist country's state media said the talks were held in a "sincere atmosphere" and were aimed at finding ways to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
"At the talks, the parties decided to offer economic and energy aid equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil in connection with the DPRK's temporary suspension of the operation of its nuclear facilities," the Korean Central News Agency said, referring to the country by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Under the agreement, five working groups are to meet within 30 days: denuclearization; normalization of US-North Korea relations; normalization of North Korea-Japan relations; economy and energy cooperation; and peace and security in Northeast Asia.
"I consider the agreement as a new milestone in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula," said South Korean Assistant Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo. The peninsula has remained in a state of war for more than half a century since the Korean War ended in a 1953 cease-fire.
The agreement also called on the United States to begin the processes of removing North Korea from the US list of terror-sponsoring states and lifting US trade sanctions. No deadlines were set.
Washington's blacklisting of a Macau bank in September 2005 had led the North to a more-than-yearlong boycott of the disarmament talks.
"We will resolve the matter of the financial sanctions relating to [Banco Delta Asia] within 30 days," Hill said without giving details.
China, the US, South Korea and Russia all agreed to provide the oil and aid, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in Tokyo that his country would not contribute until the issue of the abductions of its citizens by North Korea is resolved. Pyongyang has admitted abducting Japanese citizens, but has not provided an account meeting Tokyo's satisfaction.
After the initial 60 days, a meeting will be held of foreign ministers from all countries at the talks - China, Japan, Russia, the US and the two Koreas. A meeting of the nuclear envoys is also set for March 19.
Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.â€¢