Rice: N. Korea to declare nuclear past

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended U.S. diplomacy toward North Korea on Wednesday, saying a deal with Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear ambitions made Asia and the United States safer and that the country is close to making public details of its past nuclear pursuits, reported CNN.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, Rice said that "North Korea will soon give its declaration of nuclear programs to China." China is the host of the six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program, along with Russia, South Korea, Japan and the U.S.

Rice spoke in advance of her trip to Asia, where she will be attending a meeting of G-8 foreign ministers and meeting with her Asian counterparts.

North Korea conducted a weapons test in 2006 and is understood to have the capability of producing several more nuclear weapons.

North Korea missed an end-of-2007 deadline to turn over to the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea a full inventory of its programs and a description of its spread of nuclear technology to others.

Rice said that once North Korea submits its declaration, President Bush will notify Congress that he intends to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and scrap some sanctions levied against North Korea because of nuclear concerns.

But she noted that there would be no practical effect to loosening the restrictions because North Korea still was under the same sanctions because of other areas of U.S. law.

Rice said a 45-day review would begin to allow U.S. verification and assess whether Pyongyang was living up to its end of the deal struck in the six-party talks.

"Before those actions go into effect, we would continue to assess the level of North Korean cooperation in helping to verify the accuracy and completeness of its declaration," she said. "And if that cooperation is insufficient, we will respond accordingly."

In addition to the agreement to disable its nuclear reactor and provide a full accounting of its plutonium stockpile, North Korea was expected to "acknowledge" concerns about its proliferation activities and its uranium enrichment activity and agree to continue cooperation with a verification process to ensure no further activities are taking place.

Those steps are the second phase of a three-phase deal reached through the "six-party talks" -- involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States -- aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

The United States softened its demand that North Korea publicly admit to having a highly enriched uranium program and to providing Syria with nuclear technology, key unanswered questions that have left negotiations stalled for months.

North Korea has handed over about 18,000 documents on its nuclear past, which Washington says are critical to verify North Korea's claims.

"Verifying an agreement with North Korea will be a serious challenge," Rice said. "This is the most secretive and opaque regime in the entire world. Consequently, our intelligence is far from perfect or complete. We therefore need to be very clear about what we know and what we do not know about North Korea's programs and activities. And as importantly, we need to know what we must still learn."

Rice said the deal with North Korea wasn't perfect but offered the U.S. the best chance to learn about North Korea's nuclear history.

"We must keep the broader goal in mind: the elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons and programs, all of them," she said. "North Korea has said that it is committed to this goal. We'll see."

Rice said that "no final agreement can be concluded" unless the U.S. verifies North Korea's claims.

"It may very well be the case that North Korea does not want to give up its nuclear weapons and its programs," she said. "That is a very real possibility, but we and our partners should test it, and the best way to do so is through the six-party framework."

Senior U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill was due in Tokyo on Thursday to consult with Japanese and South Korean officials and in Beijing on Friday for talks with Chinese negotiators, The Associated Press reported.

Bush, meanwhile, plans to attend the G-8 summit meeting of leading industrialized nations in Japan next month and to visit China in August.

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