October 11, 2008

U.S. Drops N. Korea From Terror List

Washington, Oct. 11 (Jiji Press)--The United States said Saturday that it has removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in exchange for jump-starting six-party talks on the reclusive state's nuclear issues.

Agreeing with North Korea on "a series of verification measures that represents significant cooperation" for its denuclearization, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has rescinded the terror state designation effective immediately, the State Department said.

The U.S. move represents a major setback for Japan, which has been asking the United States not to remove the country from the list unless progress is made in the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the past.

The United States put North Korea on the list in January 1988, one month after the midair bombing of a Korea Air jet that was linked to the communist state.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement that North Korea has stated it will resume disablement of its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, a step halted after the United States in August put off dropping the country from the list.

The United States expects the six-party talks to be held by the end of this month for the documentation of the verification accord.

All measures contained in the verification protocol will apply to a plutonium-based program and any uranium enrichment and proliferation activities, the statement said.

Experts from all member states of the six-party talks may participate in verification activities, including experts from nonnuclear states, and they will have access to all declared facilities and, based on mutual consent, to undeclared sites, it said.

The United States and North Korea also agreed that the International Atomic Energy Agency will have "an important consultative and support role in verification," according to McCormack.

In the statement, McCormack said the United States strongly urges North Korea to "address Japan's concerns without further delay," adding that Washington "wholeheartedly supports Japan's position on the abduction issue."

A Japanese Foreign Ministry source in Tokyo said that U.S. President George W. Bush held phone talks with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso to brief him about the U.S. accord with North Korea and the lifting of the terror state designation.

At the same time, Bush told Aso that he understands Japanese concerns about the abduction issue and conveyed his strong sympathy for the families of abductees and a sincere wish to solve the problem, according to the source.

Aso was quoted as saying that Japan hopes to continue to closely cooperate with the United States to solve the abduction issue.

While the United States may designate North Korea again as a terror sponsor if Pyongyang fails to fulfill an accord on the verification of its declared nuclear programs, the latest step may be criticized as the Bush administration's concession to make a diplomatic point at the end of his tenure.

On June 26, the United States started its procedures for taking North Korea off the terror list, based on an agreement in the six- party talks. But Washington suspended its work, calling for an accord on a framework for verifying North Korea's declared nuclear programs.

North Korea then halted disablement of its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and started its work to resume operations. It also prohibited IAEA inspectors from key facilities, putting the six- party talks to a halt.

Earlier this month, the United States and North Korea have worked out a draft verification framework through talks between Christopher Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan. Hill then briefed Japanese, Chinese and South Korean counterparts on the draft framework in a bid to gain understanding from them.END

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