( AFP ) - The United States has told North Korea it must come clean on all its suspected nuclear programmes to secure removal from Washington's list of state sponsors of terrorism, a report said Tuesday.
The US State Department earlier confirmed that the communist state on Monday began an unprecedented disabling of its plutonium-based nuclear programme under the supervision of a nine-member US team.
"Yes, the process has started," said department spokesman Tom Casey in Washington. "Obviously it is going to be a process that is going to take some time."
The North's action to roll back the programme, after half a century of research and development, follows a February six-nation accord under which it will receive major aid and diplomatic benefits for full denuclearisation.
Among these are removal from the terrorism listing, which currently bans US economic assistance to the impoverished state as well as loans from the World Bank or other multilateral organisations.
The North is one of five states on the list, along with Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
At a meeting in Beijing between the chief US and North Korean nuclear negotiators on October 31, Washington gave Pyongyang "concrete terms" for its removal, Yonhap news agency said.
"The measures for North Korea to take include not only implementing 11 concrete measures aimed at disabling the nuclear facilities by year-end but also clarifying the UEP (uranium enrichment programme) based on more convincing evidence," a government official told the agency in Boston.
US claims in 2002 that the North was operating a covert highly enriched uranium programme to make weapons fuel, in addition to the plutonium operation, led to the collapse of a 1994 nuclear disarmament deal.
The Yonhap reporter was accompanying South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-Soon on a US visit. The agency said that if the North is to be delisted by year-end, President George W. Bush should report his decision to Congress no later than November 16 to comply with a 45-day notice period.
Casey said the US team is expected to stay at the Yongbyon nuclear complex until the three core facilities -- the reactor, the reprocessing plant and the fuel fabrication plant -- have been put out of action by year-end.
The North, which staged a nuclear test in October 2006, took the first step under the six-nation February accord by shutting down the reactor in July. Disablement aims to make the reactor and other plants unusable for at least a year while talks on total denuclearisation continue.
The impoverished state will receive energy aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars in return for disablement and for a full declaration of all its nuclear programmes.
If it goes on next year to dismantle the plants and give up its plutonium stockpile and nuclear weapons, it can expect normalised relations with Washington and a peace pact to replace the armistice which ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Negotiators from the six nations -- the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia -- have reportedly called for the withdrawal of about 8,000 spent fuel rods from the reactor as one of the 11 disablement steps.
Yonhap has said the removal of the rods, which weigh some 50 tonnes in total, was expected to take at least six weeks. The US team was expected to keep them in a cooling pond until a decision is made on how to dispose of them.