Wed, Jun 25, 2008 - Page 5 News List

US cautious over N Korean disclosure

ACCOUNTABILITYThe main declaration over Pyongyang’s nuclear program could be handed over during a meeting in Beijing, possibly during Condoleezza Rice’s visit

AFP , SEOUL

After months of stalemate, North Korea is expected this week to make an unprecedented disclosure of its nuclear activities to get six-party disarmament negotiations moving again.

The White House said on Monday it expects the declaration to be handed over tomorrow but cautioned that it would not be taken on trust.

“We know the North Koreans have been themselves saying that this Thursday would be the date that they submit their declaration,” spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “We will see if that actually happens — and if it does, it must be correct and verifiable.”

Diplomatic sources in Beijing also told the Japanese agency Kyodo on Monday that the declaration, a key part of a nuclear disarmament deal, would be handed to Chinese negotiators tomorrow.

Also striking a cautious note was US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who heads to Asia later this week.

“We will see if North Korea, indeed, delivers to China ... a declaration that, as we’ve said, would have to be verifiable as complete and accurate,” she told reporters before her plane landed on Monday in Berlin.

“It would be an important step,” said Rice, who travels later this week to Japan, South Korea and China.

Under a landmark deal struck in February last year between the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan, the North agreed to disable its nuclear plants at Yongbyon and declare all nuclear programs by the end of that year.

The communist state, which tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006, has been disabling the plutonium-producing plants in return for energy aid but disputes over the declaration have stalled the process. US suspicions of a secret uranium-enrichment weapons program and of nuclear proliferation will now reportedly be addressed in a separate document.

The main declaration to China, which chairs six-party talks, will cover the production and stockpiling of plutonium at the aging Yongbyon complex. The North will reportedly declare a 37kg stockpile, less than US estimates.

The declaration could be handed over during a meeting in Beijing of US negotiator Christopher Hill and his five counterparts, possibly during Rice’s visit, a senior US official said on condition of anonymity.

After the declaration, US President George W. Bush will 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.

In a symbolic gesture possibly on Friday, the North will blow up the cooling tower at Yongbyon in the presence of US and other TV crews.

Full six-party talks have not been held since last October but a new round is likely to be called soon after the declaration is submitted.

It will focus on verifying the declaration and on preparations for the third and hopefully final phase — the permanent dismantlement of nuclear plants and the handover of all weapons and material.

In return, the North would establish diplomatic relations with Washington and Japan and a peace treaty would be drawn up formally ending the Korean War five decades ago.

Tokyo has been critical of any US move to de-list North Korea until it accounts for all Japanese civilians believed kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s.

“We’re going to continue to press North Korea to make certain that this issue is dealt with,” Rice promised.

The communist state, in a recent surprise development, pledged to reopen its investigation of the cases.

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