Apart from being good for the US, said Mr Clinton, 'South Korea and our other allies will be better protected. The entire world will be safer as we slow the spread of weapons.' Robert Gallucci, the chief US negotiator with North Korea, handed over a letter from Mr Clinton at yesterday's signing ceremony which committed him personally to American implementation of the agreement.
Under the terms of the deal, North Korea will freeze its nuclear programme, thought to be aimed at developing nuclear weapons, and dismantle its existing reactors, which produce high quantities of weapons-grade plutonium.
In return Pyongyang will receive modern light-water reactors, whose dollars 4bn ( pounds 2.7bn) cost will be borne mainly by South Korea and Japan.
These reactors will be reliant on imported fuel, and will produce far less plutonium. Until they come into service in about 2003, the international community will pay for North Korea's oil imports, with the US contributing dollars 5m for next year's bill.
Pyongyang will also receive precious diplomatic recognition from Washington, with both sides due to open liaison offices in each other's capitals soon.
The US clearly hopes that North Korea and its little-known new leader, Kim Jong Il, can be persuaded to behave rationally if they are allowed out of isolation, but the Clinton administration has been accused of all but abandoning efforts to discover Pyongyang's past nuclear activities.
Mr Gallucci admitted in Washington earlier this week that the agreement was not perfect, but argued that it was far better than no deal at all, which would allow North Korea to continue producing material for possibly hundreds of nuclear devices. Critics, however, believe Pyongyang is receiving too many incentives up front, while its willingness to keep its side of the bargain will not be tested for several years.
The crisis over North Korea's nuclear programme began when international inspectors discovered in 1992 that the regime was concealing plutonium.
Pyongyang agreed yesterday to stay within the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty and allow full inspection of all its facilities, but not until almost the end of the decade.
As if to emphasise the immediate benefits North Korea is reaping, the US and South Korea yesterday announced the cancellation of annual military exercises, codenamed 'Team Spirit', which have regularly been denounced by Pyongyang.
Among leading critics of the nuclear deal is Senator Robert Dole, the Republican leader, who said caustically that it showed 'it is always possible to get an agreement when you give enough away'. On Thursday the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Hans Blix, expressed concern at the delay of several years in comprehensive inspection. Mr Blix added, however, that the agreement was better than nothing.Reuse content