WASHINGTON (AP) _ The breakthrough nuclear agreement with North Korea could pay wide-ranging dividends for all sides, especially in the area of already improving U.S. relations with China and America's allies, chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said Thursday.
Other side benefits might include a peace treaty formally ending the war on the Korean peninsula after more than a half-century, a cut in the force of 25,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, a better life for impoverished North Koreans and the State Department's declassifying of the North as a sponsor of terror, Hill said in remarks at the Brookings Institution, a liberal-oriented think tank.
The U.S. negotiator said he plans to meet with North Korean counterparts within 30 days to work on these issues and a schedule for North Korea to go beyond its commitment last week in six-sided negotiations in Beijing to seal its main nuclear reactor and permit international inspection.
In return, Pyongyang is due to receive 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil and ultimately another 950,000 tons in fuel if it completely abandons its nuclear weapons program.
``We are very mindful we have a long way to go,'' Hill said.
For one thing, he said, Pyongyang must provide a complete list of programs to be put out of commission.
Conservatives have blasted the agreement, which was considered a breakthrough after months of deadlock and bickering, as naive and worse. They say it rewards North Korea for bad behavior and sets a terrible precedent for Iran, another country with which the U.S. is locked in a nuclear standoff.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said in an interview that the North Korean regime ``is not going to give up something so central to its survival as nuclear weapons.''
North Korea is known to have tried to acquire aluminum tubes from Germany and ``made certain purchases of equipment which is entirely consistent with a highly enriched uranium program,'' he said.
The agreement already has strengthened U.S. relations with China and South Korea, Hill said. China wants ``clarity'' from North Korea on abandoning its weapons program and, ``We really have lined up our interests with them,'' Hill said.
Further closing ranks on all fronts, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is planning to meet with the foreign ministers of the five other countries in April in Beijing. They are North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
In a parallel move, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will make a trip early next month to Japan, South Korea and China. The State Department has ruled out a stop in Pyongyang by Rice's new top deputy.
Hill stressed that North Korea has not yet made a commitment to abandon its entire program.
``They're going to make decisions to move on a step- by-step basis. And as they move one step, they will look back and say, 'This is a better place than we were in yesterday.' And that will encourage them to take still another step,'' Hill said.
Meanwhile, he said, North Korea is very interested in getting off the State Department list of terror sponsors.
``We are prepared to begin that process, with the understanding it's going to take some time. ... We need some answers from them,'' he said.
A peace treaty to replace an armistice and formally end the Korean war is not technically a six-party issue. Hill said he assumes China, the United States, North Korea and South Korea would meet to resolve the issue. If they do, different ways may be found to maintain peace on the peninsula, a task undertaken since the war by U.S. troops.
``Our guiding star,'' Hill said, is ``we want to maintain the security and the stability that we've maintained all these years.''