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Rice calls North Korean deal 'important first step'

Story Highlights

NEW: North Korean media reportedly says nuclear suspension "temporary"
NEW: Condoleezza Rice touts later "disablement" phase of North Korean deal
• North Korea agrees to shut down its main nuclear reactor within 60 days
• The country will receive an initial 50,000 tons of fuel oil or financial aid in return
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials on Tuesday defended the Bush administration's policy shift on North Korea, which coincided with an agreement by Pyongyang to begin to close down its nuclear program.

North Korea now has 60 days to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear complex and readmit nuclear inspectors. In return, it will get 50,000 tons of fuel oil or financial aid of an equal amount.

Once Pyongyang takes additional steps to disable its nuclear program, including taking inventory of its plutonium stockpile, it will qualify for another 950,000 tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid, according to the terms of the deal. The aid package is worth $300 million. (Watch how the deal was made Video)

North Korean state media reported that the agreement called only for a "temporary suspension" of Pyongyang's nuclear program, according to wire reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice drew a distinction between the first 60-day period, when she said nuclear activities will be suspended, and the later "disablement phase."

"The disabling of these facilities is a sign that the North Koreans may, in fact, be ready to make a strategic choice," she said at a briefing in Washington. "I will not take it as a complete sign until we've seen that disablement, but obviously disablement is an important step forward."

"I am pleased with the agreements reached today at the Six Party Talks in Beijing," President Bush said in a statement. "These talks represent the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea's nuclear programs. They reflect the common commitment of the participants to a Korean Peninsula that is free of nuclear weapons."

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.

Not addressed in the agreement is what will happen to any nuclear weapons North Korea may have stockpiled. Reports have suggested that Pyongyang already may have as many as a dozen nuclear bombs.

The omission marks a change from the previous statements -- including by Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, in September 2005 -- that all elements, past and present, of North Korea's nuclear program "will be comprehensively declared and completely, verifiably and irreversibly eliminated" for benefits to accrue.

The Bush administration halted fuel shipments agreed by the Clinton White House after North Korea said it was developing a nuclear weapons program in 2002. Earlier that year President Bush labeled Pyongyang part of the "axis of evil."

Bolton: Agreement sends 'wrong signal'

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, blasted the new deal Monday in an interview with CNN, saying it would only encourage other countries trying to secure nuclear weapons.

"It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world: If you hold out long enough and wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded," said Bolton, who was also involved with North Korea earlier as the State Department's undersecretary for arms control.

"It makes the [Bush] administration look very weak at a time in Iraq and dealing with Iran it needs to look strong," he said.

Hill on Tuesday defended the deal, saying it is different from the policy developed under the Clinton administration because it is a multilateral agreement.

"This is not a bilateral deal between the U.S. and North Korea," Hill said. "This involves six parties, with China in the share. I think the deal here is that North Korea has made certain commitments not only to us, but to all of its neighbors."

Bolton said the six-party deal "contradicts fundamental premises of the president's policy he's been following for the past six years" and could have effects on U.S. relations in other hot spots.

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

As U.N. ambassador, Bolton helped push through a U.N. resolution last year that led to economic sanctions against North Korea.

Responding to the criticism, Hill pointed out that Bolton is a private citizen and has the right to speak his mind. Hill said he expects further criticism and emphasized that the deal is based on "initial actions" that will "begin a process aimed at complete denuclearization."

In October 2002, North Korea admitted it was developing a nuclear weapons program in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework reached between the United States and North Korea. The United States then halted fuel oil shipments to Pyongyang called for under the same agreement.

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.

This time, an administration official said: "The Koreans faced five other united members, and they realized they were standing alone."

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, John Vause and Susie Xu contributed to this report.

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North Korea's chief negotiator Kim Kye Gwan, center top, and his aides face their South Korean counterparts at six-party talks last week in Beijing, China.

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