Fri, Jun 20, 2008 - Page 7 News List

N Korea nuclear declaration due soon, Rice says

ITEMIZED LIST The US secretary of state told the Heritage Foundation the US would review Pyongyang's level of cooperation and push hard for verification


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday that North Korea would “soon” issue a declaration of all its nuclear weapons programs after missing a deadline under a six-party deal.

Rice’s prediction came as US envoy Christopher Hill was due to begin a round of talks today with Japanese, Chinese and South Korean officials on efforts to scrap North Korea’s nuclear programs.

“North Korea will soon give its declaration of nuclear programs to China,” Rice said in a speech in Washington.

After the declaration, US President George W. Bush would formally inform Congress of plans to remove North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism and waive penalizing the regime under the US Trading with the Enemy Act, she said.

“In the next 45 days after that, before those actions go into effect, we would continue to assess the level of North Korean cooperation in helping to verify the accuracy of its declaration,” Rice said.

“If that cooperation is insufficient, we will respond accordingly,” she said.

North Korea is disabling its plutonium-producing reactor and other plants under a six-party deal reached last year. But disputes over the promised declaration of its nuclear activities due Dec. 31 have blocked the start of the final phase of the process — the permanent dismantling of the plants and the handover of all material.

Rice, defending US policy towards North Korea in response to domestic right-wing critics, also said Washington would push for inspections to verify any disarmament claims by the regime.

But she acknowledged verifying North Korea’s commitments posed difficulties.

“Verifying an agreement with North Korea will be a serious challenge. This is the most secretive and opaque regime in the entire world,” she said.

In return for abandoning the atomic programs, the North would receive energy aid, a lifting of US sanctions, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Washington and a formal peace treaty.

North Korea also missed an end-of-year deadline to completely disable its nuclear plants.

The North raised hopes it would hand over the declaration after giving the US earlier this month thousands of documents of production records for the five-megawatt reactor and reprocessing plant in Yongbyon.

Rice said on Wednesday the documents represented an “important step” that will help verify the declaration when it is eventually submitted.

Responding to conservatives who have accused her of caving in to North Korea, Rice sought to defend the administration’s policy before the Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank.

“It may very well be the case that North Korea does not want to give up its nuclear weapons and its programs. That is a very real possibility,” she said. “But we and our partners should test it.”

Rice said Washington had no illusions about the nature of North’s regime but argued that offering a deal jointly with China and other powers had proved the most effective strategy.

Rice also said the US would not ignore human rights abuses in North Korea regardless of how the six-party talks progress.

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