It would set a moratorium on its long-range missile launches, suspend enrichment of nuclear fuel and permit a resumption of inspections at its principal nuclear facility by United Nations representatives. For its part in the deal, announced Wednesday in Beijing, the United States would give North Korea 265,000 tons of food aid.
Given history, this seeming breakthrough has to be viewed with skepticism. There have been talks before, there have been deals on the horizon before -- and usually they came to nothing. Negotiations, particularly in the six-party variety including China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States, took place but then were broken off, usually by North Korea, for one reason or other.
What's different now? First, North Korea's previous leader, Kim Jong Il, died in December and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un. When an older, sickly, hardliner is replaced by a younger ruler, there is some reason to look hopefully for positive change.
Sometimes it doesn't work out. Syria's leader, Hafez Assad, 69, was replaced by his 34-year-old, more Westernized son in 2000, causing Middle East observers to look for modern changes. Tragically, it didn't happen.
Perhaps the young Kim is different from his father in how he views the international scene and his country's place in it. The other difference is North Korea's 24 million people have suffered more hunger, penury and isolation since talks with Pyongyang were suspended in 2008. Kim Jong Un's father obviously didn't care about that or wasn't adroit enough to manage his country's menacing nuclear program in a way to help North Korea economically.
The United States also proceeds with a less than exemplary record of straightforwardness. For example, it is holding joint military exercises with South Korea that the North considers provocative. Washington also has sometimes dragged its feet on fulfillment of promises to Pyongyang.
Everyone, however, should be hopeful about the prospects for this agreement. A North Korea that does not wave its nuclear weapons around is a meritorious goal in Asia and in the world.