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Diplomats Welcome N. Korean Decision to Abandon Nuclear Program, Wait for Verification

International diplomats in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting have welcomed North Korea's decision to abandon it nuclear weapons program. But, they tempered their optimism with calls for caution and compliance.

The United Nations hailed the agreement reached at the six-party disarmament talks in Beijing as a major step toward resolving one of the thorniest international security issues through multilateral diplomacy. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan hopes North Korea will rejoin the nuclear nonproliferation treaty soon and agree to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"He is hopeful that this agreement, when fully implemented, will lead to a peninsula free of nuclear weapons, normalize relations and enhance security between the countries concerned and flourishing economic opportunities in northeast Asia," he said. "The secretary-general commends the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States as well as the other participants for their flexibility to a realistic approach as well as for their readiness to overcome differences through dialogue and mutual respect."

Under the terms of the agreement, North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons program in return for an infusion of economic aid and energy assistance. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the accord is a good first step, but difficult issues of compliance and verification are ahead.

"The six-parties will plan to reconvene within a couple months and we have to at every stage test the dedication, the commitment of the North Koreans to carry through with the obligation they have now taken in this statement of principles to abandon their nuclear weapons program, to abandon their other nuclear programs and to do so verifiably," she said. "And the proof is in the pudding. We are now going to have to have a very clear road map for verification, a clear road map for dismantlement. Because that is the core issue here and we look forward to working on it."

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the consensus reached in Beijing after three earlier rounds of talks shows that defying the international community does not succeed in the long run.

"What that example shows is that isolation and defiance of the international community does not work, however fanciful individual nations may think it can work," he said. "And however long it takes, the will of the international community, the authority of international instruments these days, the smallness of the globe requires that all member states stand by their obligations, and I think that is a good augury for the discussions which are now about to begin in Vienna at the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency."

In Vienna, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, told reporters he will consult with North Korean officials about a timetable for the return of inspectors to verify that the North Korean nuclear program has been abandoned and that any nuclear activity is dedicated to peaceful purposes and subject to safeguards.