BEIJING, (Reuters) – North Korea will hand China a long-delayed account of its shadowy nuclear activities on Thursday, a senior Chinese diplomat said, a step that could see it removed from Washington’s list of terrorist states.
A milestone on the way to ending its nuclear ambitions, the move, if it happens, could also win the reclusive state diplomatic recognition and desperately needed aid and fuel to prop up its economy.
Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister Wu Dawei said that once North Korea submitted the declaration, the United States would “amend the designation of the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism”, using the north’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Wu added that the declaration would be “subject to verifications, and there is agreement within the parties on a set of principles to guide the establishment of a verification regime”.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in the Japanese city of Kyoto earlier there was still work to do in verifying that North Korea, which tested a nuclear device two years ago, had given up the pursuit of atomic weapons.
“Considering North Korea’s track record, verification is essential,” she said in a column in the Wall Street Journal. “But still it must be asked: What if North Korea cheats?,” Rice said. “The answer is simple: We will hold North Korea accountable. We will reimpose any applicable sanctions that we have waived — plus add new ones.”
China, the closest Pyongyang has to an ally, has hosted six-country talks that last year secured a deal offering North Korea energy, aid and diplomatic concessions in return for disabling its main nuclear facility and unveiling its past nuclear activities.
That phase of the nuclear disarmament deal was due for completion by the end of 2007, but wrangling over money, aid and the contents of the North’s “declaration” has held up progress.
The six-party talks bring together North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia and there have been many expected near-breakthroughs over the years that never materialised.
North Korea is expected to follow the declaration with the demolition of the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, a symbolic event highlighting its commitment to disable the source of its bomb-grade plutonium.
The steam seen coming out of the cooling tower in spy satellite images has been the most visible sign of the plant’s operation.
In an unprecedented move, North Korea has invited some Western media to record the event.
The chief U.S. envoy to the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill, told reporters on Wednesday before heading to join Rice in Kyoto that North Korea’s declaration was likely to be soon followed by a new round of six-party negotiations.
President George W. Bush bracketed North Korea, Iraq and Iran in an “axis of evil” after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, accusing them of state-sponsored terrorism and of seeking weapons of mass destruction. North Korea has also been accused of money-laundering, counterfeiting U.S. currency and manufacturing narcotics.
Removal from the U.S. list would ease trade restrictions and open the way for other cooperation with the United States, and eventually enable North Korea to work with the World Bank and other international institutions.
Japan has expressed concern about the United States removing North Korea from the terrorist list before the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents is addressed, but officials have recently indicated they now support the moves.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, five of whom have since been repatriated to Japan.