N. Korea expected to detail nuclear program

North Korea on Thursday is expected to release details on its plutonium stockpile and continue preparations to publicly dismantle a controversial nuclear reactor -- key steps meant to assuage international concerns about nuclear activity in the usually secretive Communist nation, reported CNN.

U.S. researchers examine lathes used for machining uranium metal fuel rods at the Yongbyon plant.

Under an agreement hammered out in six-nation talks that included the United States and China, leaders in Pyonyang agreed to provide a full accounting of the plutonium, "acknowledge" concerns about its nuclear proliferation and uranium enrichment activities and agree to continued cooperation with a process to ensure that no further activities are taking place.

They are expected to hand over a "declaration" on the plutonium activities to Chinese officials around midday local time (overnight ET) Thursday. The Chinese would then turn the papers over to the U.S. State Department, which is expected to announce that North Korea has been removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

On Friday, North Korea is set to implode a cooling tower on its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Nuclear experts have already begun dismantling the plant's main reactor. But the destruction of the cooling tower is expected to be a powerful public symbol -- as well as a step that would take more than a year to reverse, according to U.S. State Department officials. 

In a rare move, North Korea invited international news organizations, including CNN, to witness the tower's destruction.

Speaking last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said that once Pyonyang turns over the declaration, U.S. President George W. Bush will declare that North Korea has been removed from the state-sponsored terrorism list and will lift some sanctions against the nation that were levied because of nuclear concerns.

The lifting of the sanctions will have no immediate effect, however, because similar sanctions are in place under other areas of U.S. law, Rice said.

Under the six-party agreement, a 45-day review period will begin after the declaration is handed over. During that time, international nuclear officials will examine the documents to make sure they are accurate and complete.

The six-party talks also included South Korea, Japan and Russia.

During negotiations, the United States ultimately softened demands that North Korea admit to having a highly enriched uranium program and supplying Syria with nuclear technology -- sticking points that had stalled the talks for months.

Rice said the final deal wasn't perfect, but offered the United States its best chance yet to learn about North Korea's nuclear activities

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