GENEVA — The United States and North Korea reached a draft agreement to ease months of tension over the North's nuclear program, the chief U.S. negotiator said late Monday.
Robert L. Gallucci said that the draft will be sent to Washington and to Pyongyang for approval and that negotiators hope to sign the document in Geneva on Friday.
He declined to give details of the accord, but said it was "broadly acceptable and positive" for the United States and North Korea's neighbors, including South Korea and Japan. It also addressed concerns about North Korea's past nuclear program, he said.
The Times had reported Saturday that the Clinton Administration was preparing to conclude a far-reaching new agreement with Pyongyang.
The United States and others fear North Korea has already made at least one atomic bomb, although North Korea insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
The agreement builds on one reached in August in which North Korea offered to open up its nuclear facilities to international inspection and scrap its outdated atomic energy program. That program uses old-fashioned technology that produces more bomb-making plutonium than modern reactors.
In return, Washington offered low-level diplomatic ties and help in building safer nuclear power plants.
Since then, little progress has been made. Some speculated that a power vacuum in North Korea following the death of Kim Il Sung made it impossible for negotiators in Geneva to act with authority.
Kim Jong Il, the late leader's son, appeared in public Sunday for the first time since his father's funeral in July, signaling that he has taken power. However, he has not formally assumed the positions of president and Communist Party leader.
The breakthrough in the talks apparently came as a result of telephone negotiations and the exchange of faxed texts of the final document between the two sides Monday evening.
Gallucci said the accord tackled the issue of international inspection of two sites near Pyongyang where the United Nations' watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency says there could be evidence of a North Korean nuclear weapons program.
In Beijing, Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian told U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry on Monday that China, North Korea's main ally, would try to help end the impasse. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China did not want North Korea to have nuclear weapons.