Generalized Multi-Protocol Label Switching (GMPLS) extends MPLS signaling and Internet routing protocols to provide a scalable, interoperable, distributed control plane, which is applicable to multiple network technologies such as optical cross connects (OXCs), photonic switches, IP routers, ATM switches, SONET and DWDM systems. It is intended to facilitate automatic service provisioning and dynamic neighbor and topology discovery across multi-vendor intelligent transport networks, as well as their clients. Efforts to standardize such a distributed common control plane have reached various stages in several bodies such as the IETF, ITU and OIF. This paper describes the design considerations and architecture of a GMPLS-based control plane that we have prototyped for core optical networks. Functional components of GMPLS signaling and routing are integrated in this architecture with an application layer controller module. Various requirements including bandwidth, network protection and survivability, traffic engineering, optimal utilization of network resources, and etc. are taken into consideration during path computation and provisioning. Initial experiments with our prototype demonstrate the feasibility and main benefits of GMPLS as a distributed control plane for core optical networks. In addition to such feasibility results, actual adoption and deployment of GMPLS as a common control plane for intelligent transport networks will depend on the successful completion of relevant standardization activities, extensive interoperability testing as well as the strengthening of appropriate business drivers.