North Korea's decision to suspend its testing of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles is being cautiously welcomed in Asia, where many residents remember a history of broken promises.
U.S. and North Korean officials simultaneously announced the breakthrough Wednesday, saying Pyongyang will also halt other nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment. The United States, meanwhile, says it will push ahead on a plan to provide 240,000 metric tons of U.S. food assistance to the North.
Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said Thursday in Tokyo that the deal also provides for the return to North Korea of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"They [North Korea] have said they agree to let the IAEA surveillance team return. They have also promised to take steps toward denuclearization and stopped the launch of short range missiles - these are significant accomplishments being made," he said.
The Japanese foreign minister described the concessions offered by North Korea as "significant." But he acknowledged that more will have to be done before the long-stalled six-nation talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs can resume.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman also welcomed the agreement, saying Beijing will continue to strive to play a constructive part in bringing peace and security to the region.
But many ordinary citizens in Japan and South Korea say they are doubtful that anything will change. Hisatoshi Yoshikawa, a 71-year-old Japanese retiree, says he does not believe the deal will work any better than previous failed agreements.
"In the end they [North Korea] always end up doing the same thing over and over again," he said. "They don't know how to change their ways."
U.S. officials acknowledged Wednesday they see the agreement as only the first step in a long process.
"The agreements that the North Koreans have made are very welcome, but obviously they need to be followed up by actions, and commitments to do something are one thing, actually doing them are another," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "So, we will pursue this policy area with that approach in mind."
The agreement follows talks last week in Beijing between U.S. and North Korean officials, just two months after the death of North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong Il.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. and North Korean teams will meet soon to complete details of a plan to deliver food aid to the North. She said the deal calls for "intensive monitoring" to ensure the assistance reaches the most needy.
Stephen Bosworth, the former U.S. special representative for North Korea policy in the Obama administration says the deal could lead to progress in other areas.
"My hope is that the agreement will hold and lead to some next steps, such as the return of the IAEA inspectors to Yongbyon and North Korea and to resuming a new flow of food aid... and that would be followed by further efforts to reach an agreement on the relaunching of a deeper U.S. - North Korea dialogue and eventually the resumption of the six-party process," he said.
American experts point out that after agreeing to shut down a plutonium nuclear reactor in 1994, Pyongyang went ahead with a secret uranium enrichment program, giving it another way to produce fuel for nuclear weapons. Many of these experts remain doubtful that North Korea will ever totally give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.