Bush says he will lift sanctions against N. Korea
President Bush said Thursday he will lift key trade sanctions against North Korea and remove it from the U.S. terrorism blacklist, a remarkable turnaround in policy toward the communist regime he once branded as part of an "axis of evil."
The announcement came after North Korea handed over a long-awaited accounting of its nuclear work to Chinese officials on Thursday, fulfilling a key step in the denuclearization process. Bush said the move was "a step closer in the right direction" although he made clear the United States remains suspicious about the communist regime in Pyongyang, the AP reported.
"The United States has no illusions about the regime," Bush said in a statement that he read to reporters in the Rose Garden.
Specifically, Bush said the U.S. would erase trade sanctions under the Trading With the Enemy Act, and notify Congress that, in 45 days, it intends to take North Korea off the State Department list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
North Korea's declaration falls short of what the administration once sought, and the White House already has come under criticism from some conservatives. Bush said there was still a long way to go.
Bush said the U.S. message to North Korea was, "We will trust you only to the extent you fulfill your promises. I'm pleased with the progress. I'm under no illusions. This is the first step. This isn't the end of the process. It is the beginning of the process."
"If North Korea continues to make the right choices it can repair its relationship with the international community ... If North Korea makes the wrong choices, the United States and its partners in the Six-Party Talks will act accordingly."
While welcoming North Korea's declaration, Bush repeatedly said it was just a first step.
The president said the U.S. action would have little impact on North Korea's financial and diplomatic isolation. "It will remain one of the most heavily sanctioned nations in the world," Bush said. All U.N. sanctions, for example, will remain in place.
Bush said the United States would monitor North Korea closely and "if they don't fulfill their promises, more restrictions will be placed on them."
He formally notified Congress of his intention to remove North Korea from the terrorism blacklist within 45 days, and said the United States will monitor the North's activities during that period to make sure it is living up to its promises and is serious about cooperating in the process of denuclearization.
Bush said that to end its isolation, North Korea must, for instance, dismantle all of its nuclear facilities and resolve outstanding questions on its highly enriched uranium and proliferation activities "and end these activities in a way that we can fully verify."
Bush thanked all members of the six-party talks, but singled out Japan. Tokyo has argued that the U.S. decision to remove North Korea from the list of terrorist nations should be linked to progress in solving North Korea's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.
"The United States will never forget the abduction of Japanese citizens by the North Koreans," said Bush who called Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Wednesday to express U.S. concern about the issue. "We will continue to closely cooperate and coordinate with Japan and press North Korea to swiftly resolve the abduction issue."