GENEVA, JULY 19 -- U.S. and North Korean negotiators announced a compromise accord today aimed at ending a crisis over the Pyongyang government's refusal to accept international inspection of nuclear facilities believed capable of producing weapons of mass destruction.

But the deal falls short of the U.S. goal of preventing a nuclear arms race in Asia because it does not guarantee -- as the Clinton administration had hoped -- that North Korea will now open all its nuclear facilities to outside scrutiny.

Senior representatives of the two countries said that North Korea had agreed to begin consultations with the International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear safeguards and to resume a dialogue with South Korea with a view toward banning all nuclear weapons from their divided peninsula.

For its part, the United States said that if the dual talks go well and North Korea complies fully with terms of the multinational nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it would be prepared to help Pyongyang convert its graphite-core nuclear reactors into ones cooled by light water, as is typical of U.S. commercial reactors. Water-cooled reactors are less suited for military purposes because they must be shut down for weeks for refueling, while fissionable material can be extracted from graphite reactors at frequent intervals even while they continue operating.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gallucci called the agreement "a small but significant step" forward, but he acknowledged that "we have not resolved the whole issue" of nuclear proliferation because North Korea still has not consented to recent IAEA inspection requests.

Weapons specialists and anti-proliferation watchdogs in the United States went further, noting that the agreement appears to leave Korea free to continue its weapons development program while feigning adherence to IAEA commitments. "They're staying in the {IAEA} regime and becoming a nuclear-weapons power at the same time. Pretty neat trick," said Thomas B. Cochran, a nuclear arms specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Without guaranteed inspections, "one has to assume the clandestine program can continue," said Paul Leventhal, director of the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute. "It does put us in an awkward position, bargaining with a proliferator, but our choices are limited. At least the dialogue will continue, but so does the North Korean nuclear weapons program."

Nevertheless, said one State Department official in Washington, "It's better than nothing. . . . Up to now, they haven't even been willing to broach the subject of IAEA inspections, and now they're talking. It's progress, and we didn't have to give up much to get it."

Gallucci emphasized that the outcome of North Korea's discussions with the IAEA and the Seoul governmnt will determine the fate of the U.S.-North Korean dialogue, which Pyongyang sees as a means of gaining political respectability and assistance from wealthy Western and Asian states for its backward economy.

Still, analysts said, only full and comprehensive inspections are likely to persuade U.S. allies in Asia that North Korea is living up to its assertions that it has no desire to become a nuclear power, a prospect that has prompted fears of a nuclear arms race in Asia if Japan, Taiwan and South Korea were to decide they must also acquire such weapons as a deterrent.

Kang Sok Chu, North Korea's vice minister of foreign affairs, said here today that the fact his country is prepared to move toward light water reactors is further proof that it has no strategic nuclear ambitions. Kang blamed the current tensions on the "partiality" of IAEA inspections, which North Korea claims are designed to undermine its security by probing for military secrets. He said North Korea's willingness to abide by the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty "would depend on the degree to which this partiality is eliminated."

The current crisis was sparked in February when North Korea refused an IAEA request to inspect two possible nuclear waste sites believed to hold evidence of how much weapons-grade nuclear material North Korea possesses. A month later, North Korea threatened to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- which bans development of nuclear weapons -- because of the IAEA's insistence on visiting the two sites.

Fearful of a nuclear crisis spreading through Asia, the United States and its allies embarked on a carrot-and-stick policy to bring North Korea into compliance with the treaty. Economic sanctions have been threatened, and President Clinton warned last week that any use of nuclear weapons by North Korea would lead to its annihilation.

At the same time, however, the United States has gratified the North Koreans by engaging in face-to-face talks that have been cited repeatedly in state-controlled media as American recognition of the diehard Communist regime and its totalitarian ruler, Kim Il Sung. During discussions in New York last month, North Korea agreed to suspend its threat to abandon the treaty, while the United States reaffirmed its commitment to abjure use of force against North Korea. The United States has also pledged to cancel yearly military exercises in South Korea that the North views as a security threat.

Staff writer Thomas W. Lippman in Washington contributed to this report.