WASHINGTON (AFP) — North Korea is expected to end months of delays and hand over its long-awaited accounting of its secretive nuclear programs later this week, the White House said Monday.
But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino warned that even if Pyongyang does hand over the declaration on Thursday, it would not herald any immediate changes in US policy as the hermit nation seeks to end its isolation.
"That is the deadline -- June 26th is the deadline," Perino said, adding Washington would have to study the document before taking possible steps such as removing Pyongyang from a US list of terrorism sponsors.
She clarified her comments later to say: "We know the North Koreans have been themselves saying that this Thursday would be the date that they submit their declaration.
"We will see if that actually happens -- and if it does, it must be correct and verifiable."
Diplomatic sources in Beijing also told the Japanese agency Kyodo Monday that the declaration, a key part of a nuclear disarmament deal, would be handed to Chinese negotiators on Thursday.
Under a landmark deal struck in February 2007 between six nations -- the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia, and Japan -- Pyongyang agreed to disable its nuclear programs in return for economic and diplomatic aid.
The isolated, communist state, which tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006, has been working to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear plants and was supposed to declare all its nuclear activities by the end of December.
But disputes over the declaration stalled the talks. US suspicions of a secret uranium-enrichment weapons program and of nuclear proliferation will now reportedly be addressed in a separate document.
The main declaration, to be submitted to China which chairs the disarmament negotiations, will cover the production and stockpiling of bomb-making plutonium at the aging Yongbyon complex.
In return for abandoning the atomic programs, the North is to receive energy aid, a lifting of US sanctions, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Washington and a peace treaty formally ending the 1950s Korean war.
In a symbolic gesture following the handover of the declaration, the North would then blow up the cooling tower at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, possibly on June 27 or 28. But it was demanding cash in return, according to a South Korean foreign ministry official quoted by Yonhap news agency.
But the White House stressed that it was expecting Pyongyang to fully meet its commitments under the 2007 deal.
"We'll have to see. We hope that they will fulfill their obligations and then, as we've said, there is action for action," Perino said.
"So let's take a look at the declaration as we get it and then I'll tell you what the next steps are," she said. "I don't think I can prejudge the declaration."
The news that some movement in the stalemate appeared to be in sight came as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to Asia Monday for discussions on North Korea, with stops planned in Japan, South Korea and China.
The declaration could be handed over during a meeting in Beijing of US negotiator Christopher Hill and his five counterparts, which could take place during Rice's visit, a senior US official said on the condition of anonymity.
Although such a meeting has not yet been scheduled, the official said: "That is a possibility."
But Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, after talks with Hill in Tokyo on Friday, hinted the declaration may not be as thorough as had been hoped.
"The Japanese government believes that a complete declaration is necessary for complete abolition" of the North's nuclear weapons, Komura told reporters.
"But there's a view that it's better to ease the stalemate and move forward, even by lowering (the hurdle) for the sake of reaching our goal of denuclearization," Komura said.
Rice, meanwhile, told reporters that the United States would maintain pressure on North Korea to sette cases of Japanese civilians abducted by the regime in the 1970s and 1980s.
"The Japanese people can be assured that it is an issue of extreme importance for the United States," she said.
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