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Clinton hails pact with North Korea

NORTH KOREA has agreed with the US to halt its nuclear energy programme, which the West suspects of masking a weapons production effort, in exchange for a shopping list of benefits. The deal, reached on Monday in Geneva, was hailed last night by President Bill Clinton as 'good for the United states, good for our allies and good for the safety of the entire world'.

Mr Clinton said he was sending his envoy, Robert Gallucci, back to Geneva on Friday to sign the agreement. If adhered to, the pact will end an 18-month stand-off between North Korea and the US-South Korea military alliance, that came close to confrontation earlier this year.

South Korea immediately welcomed the deal, which Seoul's Foreign Minister, Han Sung Joo, said 'provided a basis for a fundamental solution to North Korea's nuclear question and stability, and the maintenance of peace on the Korean peninsula'.

Russia also praised the agreement as a breakthrough. Western diplomats were more measured, saying it was the best that could be hoped for under the circumstances. They pointed out that while the deal should freeze Pyongyang's nuclear programme, it left unanswered the question whether North Korea has manufactured nuclear bombs.

The stand-off began in March 1993 when North Korea said that it would withdraw from the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty rather than allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect two facilities suspected of hiding evidence of a nuclear bomb programme. It reached a critical point in June, when the US threatened to call for UN sanctions and North Korea said it would regard such a move as a declaration of war.

Monday's agreement must first be ratified by Washington and Pyongyang before it is signed - possibly by the end of this week. Under the terms of the agreement North Korea will halt operations at its five megawatt nuclear reactor in Yongbyon and stop the construction of two other reactors, all graphite-cooled and capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

Pyongyang will not reprocess 8,000 spent fuel rods, currently stored in a holding pond, that could also yield plutonium, and will allow inspections by the IAEA of its nuclear facilities to go ahead immediately.

It will also restart talks with South Korea on intra- Korean nuclear inspections that are intended to ensure the entire peninsula is free of nuclear weapons.

In exchange, the US has undertaken to provide North Korea with two 1,000 megawatt light-water nuclear reactors that are designed to provide electrical power and whose by-products are of little use to a weapons programme. These reactors, made in South Korea, will be installed by 2003: until then the US has undertaken to supply North Korea with crude oil shipments.

Washington will also lift barriers on trade and investment in North Korea, and ultimately will open diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

By permitting South Korea to make them, and send its own technicians north of the border to help to install them, it has made a significant concession to Seoul. But, apart from that, Pyongyang is the overall beneficiary of the agreement.

PEKING - On the final day of his visit to China, the US Defense Secretary, William Perry, announced that US and Chinese military leaders would hold reciprocal briefings as a first stage in encouraging Peking to provide more information on its secretive defence policy, writes Teresa Poole.