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Tentative 'deal struck' over N. Korean nukes

Story Highlights

NEW: Former U.S. ambassador to U.N. John Bolton calls it "a very bad deal"
• N. Korea agrees to halt plutonium production in return for energy aid
Negotiating capitals still need to approve the agreement
Lead U.S. negotiator calls the draft agreement "excellent"
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- North Korea has tentatively agreed to close down its nuclear weapons program in exchange for energy aid, U.S. and Chinese officials said Tuesday.

But the proposed deal was being reviewed by officials in the negotiators' capitals before becoming final.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the lead American official at the talks, said the United States will give an unspecified amount of energy assistance to North Korea in exchange for North Korea freezing its production of plutonium. (Watch what North Korea is demanding Video)

Hill said negotiators are running the agreement by their capitals and would reconvene later Tuesday.

"We feel it's an excellent, excellent draft," Hill said. "I don't think we are the problem."

But John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and onetime chief of the State Department's arms-control division, called the reported draft "a very bad deal."

It makes the Bush administration "look very weak, at a time in Iraq and dealing with Iran that it needs to look strong," Bolton told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday.

"I'm hoping that the president has not been fully briefed on it and still has time to reject it," he said.

The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia have been holding talks with North Korean officials since 2002 in an effort to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program. (Read full story)

But the talks have been stalled for two years, and North Korea tested a low-yield nuclear weapon October 9.

North Korea became subject to a raft of UN sanctions, including an embargo on the sale of nuclear technology and large-scale weapons.

The U.S. government published a list of luxury goods it is also banning from sale to the reclusive east Asian nation, including cigars, plasma televisions, beer, iPods, Rolex watches and diamonds - presumed a blow to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il who reportedly loves living luxuriously. (Read full story)

More negotiation ahead

The latest round of talks stretched into the early morning hours Tuesday, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said negotiators would resume discussions later in the day.

"All parties had made their utmost efforts, and some positive progress has been made," Qin said. "But we still have to make further consultation discussions so as to confirm all the progress we have been made."

Hill said the talks would resume at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday (9:30 p.m. Monday ET).

In September 2005, North Korea committed to abandoning its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. Pyongyang walked away from the talks weeks later to protest a U.S. crackdown on banks suspected of helping North Korea with illegal financial activities.

But in December, Hill announced that the North appeared ready to discuss specific steps toward ending its nuclear program.

Tuesday, he told reporters that the United States and its allies "have put everything on the table," and it was time for North Korea to make a decision.

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