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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S., North Korea Reach Nuclear Pact

-- The United States and North Korea announced Tuesday they had reached a landmark nuclear accord and a senior Pyongyang official said it would bring Asia's atomic stand-off to an end "once and for all."

In the first substantial North Korean comment on the deal, Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju said Pyongyang would switch to safer technology and thus "totally eliminate the so-called suspicions about our nuclear program."

The agreement was announced early Tuesday by chief U.S. negotiator Robert Gallucci after almost a month of tough negotiations that only last weekend appeared to have hit a serious roadblock.

The pact, already hailed by South Korea, Japan and Russia is to be signed in Geneva on Friday once both governments have given their formal approval. Both Gallucci and Kang made it clear they believed there would be no problem.

Before returning to Washington to seek the political go-ahead, Gallucci described it as "broadly an acceptable and very positive document" which served the interests both of the United States and its Asian allies.

At a separate news conference hours later outside North Korea's mission, a smiling Kang added: "I am convinced that this agreement, if implemented, will certainly help resolve the so-called nuclear issue once and for all."

Under the deal, formalizing an outline accord reached in August, communist North Korea will freeze its current graphite nuclear construction program and close down its one existing experimental reactor.

In return, Washington is to create an international consortium of nations, including South Korea and Japan, to provide the North with much more costly light-water reactors.

Light-water reactors produce very little of the plutonium Pyongyang has been accused of diverting from its present graphite reactor to make nuclear arms.

Both negotiators refused to detail the terms of the deal or the timetable it lays down for the technology switch, but Gallucci said all key issues and concerns were dealt with.

Without explaining, he said those included the demand for "special inspections" by the International Atomic Energy Agency, watchdog of two sites near Pyongyang where the agency says there could be evidence of a past nuclear weapons program.

Until now, North Korea has firmly refused to open the sites fully to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying they are conventional military sites and unrelated to its nuclear energy program.

The deal also opens the door for the exchange between Washington and Pyongyang of diplomatic representatives as the first step to full mutual recognition -- one of the major incentives in the deal for Pyongyang.

"We are quite confident that normalization of bilateral relations will certainly make a significant contribution to greater peace and security in Asia and the rest of the world," Kang told reporters.