U.S. President George Bush is defending a deal aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program.  VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

President Bush says this is a unique deal because it brings China, Russia, South Korea and Japan together with the United States to ensure North Korean compliance.

"We had a breakthrough as a result of other voices than the United States saying to the North Koreans, 'We do not support your nuclear weapons program and we urge you to get rid of it in a verifiable way,'" he said.

In exchange for shutting down and sealing its primary nuclear facilities, and allowing inspectors to verify the process, North Korea will receive 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil from South Korea.

President Bush told White House reporters it is an important first step.

"This is good progress," he added.  "It is a good first step.  There is a lot of work to be done to make sure that the commitments made in this agreement become reality, but I believe it is an important step in the right direction."

The deal compels North Korea to disclose all of its nuclear programs and ultimately abandon those activities in return for additional economic, humanitarian, and energy assistance.

The agreement has been criticized by some of the president's political opponents for being no better than a deal that could have been struck four years ago, before North Korea tested a nuclear bomb.

It has also been criticized by some in the president's own political party for being too accommodating by easing financial pressures on the government in Pyongyang.

The president's former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton says it is a bad, disappointing deal that contradicts fundamental premises of the Bush administration's previous approach to North Korea.

President Bush says he strongly disagrees with Bolton's assessment, and those who believe it is not a good deal are "flat wrong."

"This is a phased approach that will enable all of us to say to our respective populations, 'We are watching carefully and there is an opportunity for the North Koreans to prove that this program can work,'" he noted.

The president says the deal is backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution that retains the threat of economic sanctions if North Korea does not keep its word.