WASHINGTON -- North Korea has made significant new concessions to the United States, agreeing to allow international inspections of all seven of the nuclear facilities it has acknowledged inside its country, according to Clinton administration and South Korean officials.
The concessions, made Monday in secret U.S.-North Korean talks in New York, could open the way for a resolution of the crisis over the country's nuclear program.
Clinton administration officials have said that the United States and its allies might resort to trade sanctions such as an oil embargo if diplomacy fails.
"In general terms, it's quite hopeful," said one official familiar with the talks. A senior State Department official said that the two sides "are getting close to the last step."
The secret talks between the United States and North Korea have not been concluded, because the two sides remain stuck on a U.S. demand that North Korea exchange special envoys with South Korea.
The Pyongyang regime is still resisting this condition.
Even though North Korea has told the United States it would allow inspections of its nuclear sites, it still must reach a separate agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the terms for the inspections.
Until Monday, North Korea had refused to permit international inspections of the country's two most important nuclear installations, the nuclear reactor and the reprocessing facility at Yongbyon.
Western nuclear specialists believe the two facilities have been used to make enough weapons-grade plutonium for at least one or two nuclear weapons.
"The general tone of the meeting was that the North Koreans were forthcoming on the IAEA issues," one official confirmed.
In exchange for the inspections, the United States and South Korea also would agree to give up their annual "Team Spirit" joint military exercises.