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Bush lauds agreement on plan to disable North Korea's nuclear facilities

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Wednesday hailed an agreement for North Korea to detail its nuclear programs and disable its main reactor complex, a key step toward what the United States hopes will be a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Bush said the announcement reflected the "common commitment" of the six-party talks to shut down North Korea's nuclear program. The countries are North Korea, the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan.

Under an agreement reached in February, Pyongyang was required to shut down and seal its Yongbyon reactor facility, which it did in July. The second phase required it to disable its sole functioning reactor at Yongbyon and provide a full description of all its nuclear programs.

Wednesday's agreement calls for that to happen by the end of the year. China proposed the joint statement at last weekend's end of a new round of the six-party talks, and it was accepted by all the parties.

Bush said the deal "will help secure the future peace and prosperity of the Northeast Asian region."

The United States has agreed to lead disablement activities and provide the initial funding for them. Washington also reiterated its willingness to remove North Korea from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a key demand of Pyongyang.

No timetable was set for this action, but the joint statement said it will happen "in parallel with" the North Korean government following through on its commitment.

"The two sides will increase bilateral exchanges and enhance mutual trust," the statement says.

On Friday, in anticipation of the new agreement, the United States also announced it would spend up to $25 million to pay for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil for North Korea. The February agreement calls for the parties to provide North Korea with 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil, or the monetary equivalent in other aid and assistance, in return for the first two phases of action by Pyongyang.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. nuclear negotiator with North Korea, said Tuesday in New York that the U.S. expects the process of disabling the reactor to get under way "in a matter of weeks." The U.S. wants the dismantling process to be so thorough that a nuclear facility could not be made operational for at least 12 months.

Next year, he said, the parties will address "the actual abandonment of the fissile material."

The North has about 110 pounds of fissile material harvested from the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon through a plutonium enrichment program and will have to declare exactly how much, Hill said. The U.S. also wants to resolve concerns about the North's separate uranium enrichment program, he said. Giving up all material and weapons — experts say the North may have produced more than a dozen nuclear bombs — is the only acceptable final result, Hill said.

"In short, we have a long way to go," he said. "Partial success is not success."

Associated Press reporter Edith Lederer contributed to this story from New York.