North Korea agreed on Monday to abandon all of its nuclear weapons and programs in a landmark agreement that caps two years of negotiations to defuse a high-stakes crisis.
In exchange, South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China -- the other players in the six-party talks in Beijing - would provide oil, energy aid and seek to normalize ties with the impoverished and diplomatically isolated North.
"The joint statement is the most important achievement in the two years since the start of six-party talks," Chinese chief negotiator Wu Dawei said.
Under the terms of the agreement, North Korea would have the right to a civilian nuclear program if it regains international trust, resolving the main sticking point between Pyongyang and Washington at this session of negotiations.
The United States, backed by Japan, had argued that North Korea could not be trusted with atomic energy, but China, South Korea and Russia supported the position that if it scrapped its nuclear weapons and agreed to strict safeguards it could have such an energy program in future.
Failure to reach an agreement on dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees could have prompted Washington to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council and press for sanctions.
The North has said sanctions would be tantamount to war.
North Korea had demanded aid and security guarantees before it dismantled any of its nuclear programs, but Washington and Tokyo want it to verifiably dismantle first.
In Monday's agreement, the United States affirmed it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade North Korea with nuclear or conventional weapons, China's official Xinhua news agency said.
Pyongyang and Washington, as well as Pyongyang and Tokyo, would also take steps to normalize relations, the report said.
Three previous rounds of negotiations failed to resolve the dispute, which started when the United States accused Communist North Korea in 2002 of a nuclear arms program in violation of international agreements.
North Korea denied the charge and promptly withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Reuters reports.