updated 2/15/2007 2:25:05 PM ET 2007-02-15T19:25:05

The White House on Thursday sought to ease concern among conservatives, including at least one key aide to President Bush, that a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea goes too easy on the communist country.

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One provision that conservatives find particularly troubling could allow North Korea to be removed from a list of terror-sponsoring states. One of Bush’s deputy national security advisers, Elliott Abrams, raised alarms about that section in a series of e-mails.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said he spoke with Abrams and assured him North Korea will not be removed from the list unless it changes its behavior.

“The North Koreans don’t get it for free,” Snow said. “They’ve got to earn it, like everything else.”

Snow: Deal hinges on compliance
“We’ve seen conservatives criticizing this provision because they want the same kind of reassurance,” Snow said. “So here it is — no political deal, it has to be based on facts and performance on the part of the North Koreans.”

Snow said Abrams was reassured about the terms, and that Abrams did not oppose the deal — he was just seeking clarification.

Asked if Abrams was satisfied with the answers he’d received, Snow said: “Yes. I can say that without reservation.”

“In this White House, people do express their opinions freely and give their advice,” Snow responded after Abrams’ skepticism had made its way into the newspaper.

That disclosure of Abrams’ concerns came after John Bolton, who until recently was Bush’s U.N. ambassador, said the agreement rewards North Korea for bad behavior. He called the agreement “fundamentally flawed.” Bush said in a news conference on Wednesday that he strongly disagreed with that assessment, and that North Korea would receive no aid unless it lives up to its end of the deal.

Bush praises Hu for role in negotiations
Bush underscored that point Thursday in a conversation with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Bush congratulated Hu about the important role China played in reaching disarmament deal.

“President Bush told President Hu that it was now up to the leader of North Korea to live up to the commitments made in order to create a better life for the North Korean people,” said Bush’s national security spokesman, Gordon Johndroe.

Under the first phase of the breakthrough agreement reached in Beijing on Tuesday, North Korea would shut down its main nuclear reactor and allow U.N. inspectors back into the country within 60 days.

In return, it would receive aid equal to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil from the other countries participating in the six-party talks — the United States, South Korea, Russia, China and Japan. The United States will also begin the process of removing North Korea from its designation as a terror-sponsoring state, but no deadlines have been set.

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