The lead U.S. negotiator to the so-called six-party talks on resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis praised the agreement reached earlier this month, calling it a good first step to an eventual resolution. VOA's Stephanie Ho has more from Washington.

Ambassador Christopher Hill praised the deal reached February 13, in which North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for one million tons of fuel oil. He acknowledged the deal is not perfect, and that there is still much work ahead, but he added that it is what the North Koreans would agree to.

"It is unlikely that the North Koreans will roll out of bed in the morning and say, 'we're going to make a strategic decision to get out of this.' More likely, they're going to make decisions to move on a step by step basis, and, as they move one step, they will look back and say 'this is a better place than we were in yesterday,' and that will encourage them to take still another step," said Christopher Hill.

Under the deal, several working groups are to begin meetings within 30 days, which Hill said would give all parties an indication that the process is on track.

"We would make sure that the denuclearization group has met," he said. "We would make sure that the economic and energy cooperation group has met, the Northeast Asia peace and security group, and also the two bilateral processes - that is the U.S. and Japanese bilateral processes with the DPRK - we would ensure that those have met."

He stressed that there are two conditions North Korea is required to meet. The first is to come up with a complete list of what North Korean nuclear programs need to be abandoned. The second has to do with Pyongyang getting rid of its nuclear facilities.

"The North Koreans have agreed to the disablement of all nuclear facilities, including graphite-moderated reactors and the reprocessing plant," noted Christopher Hill. "And, so, for that disablement, and disablement means that these are put out of commission, not just shut down and sealed, but actually put out of commission, and, in short, a next stage on the phase toward the dismantlement and complete abandonment of these facilities."

In return, he said, the United States is ready to talk about eventually normalizing ties, and taking North Korea off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror. He also held out hope for a peace accord to replace the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War more than 50 years ago.

Hill added that the United States has agreed to, in his words, "resolve its role in the matter of Banco Delta Asia" in Macao. Pyongyang was angered by U.S. sanctions that targeted alleged illegal North Korean activities at the bank, but Hill indicated the 18-month U.S. investigation would be completed within 30 days.

Hill said the United States is concerned about North Korea's efforts to develop a highly-enriched uranium program, in addition to its plutonium program. He says Pyongyang has not confirmed U.S. suspicions, but is at least willing to discuss the enriched uranium issue.

"I want to make very clear, though, that the North Koreans have not acknowledged having an HEU [highly-enriched uranium] program," he said. "They've not acknowledged that. But they have been willing to discuss what we know and to try to resolve this with the idea to resolve this to mutual satisfaction."

If everything goes as planned, the North Koreans are to receive an initial 50,000 tons of fuel oil within 60 days. Hill also raised the possibility of a ministerial level meeting in Beijing in April between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts from the other six parties: North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.