The Bush administration plans to remove North Korea from a terrorism blacklist on Saturday after getting assurances the Stalinist nation has agreed to a plan to inspect its nuclear facilities, The Associated Press has learned.
President Bush signed off on the move Friday in a bid to salvage a faltering accord aimed at getting the North to abandon atomic weapons, according to diplomats briefed on the matter.
The removal is provisional and North Korea will be put back on the State Department's “state sponsors of terrorism” list if it doesn't comply with the inspections, they said. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the administration has not yet announced the step.
The expected delisting comes as North Korea moves to restart a disabled nuclear reactor and takes other provocative actions, including expelling U.N. inspectors and test firing missiles, that have heightened tensions and threaten the shaky disarmament agreement.
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It also follows days of intense internal debate in Washington and consultations with U.S. negotiating partners China, South Korea, Russia and Japan. Japan had balked at the move because the North has not yet resolved issues related to its abduction of Japanese citizens.
Neither the White House nor the State Department would comment on the decision, which has been in the works since chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill returned from a trip to North Korea late last week.
But earlier Friday, U.S. officials said they were trying to build consensus among negotiating partners on the step as well as the inspection regime that Washington insists must accompany the delisting.
“We're continuing to work with our six-party partners,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said, referring to China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, which along with the United States and North Korea make up the group of countries working on the deal.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke Friday with the foreign ministers of China, South Korea and Japan and was trying to reach her Russian counterpart, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
At issue was whether tentative arrangements worked out last week between Hill and the North Koreans were acceptable to the others. Under those terms, the U.S. would provisionally remove North Korea from the terror list once the North agrees to the inspections.