BOSTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday called on North Korea to honor its pledge to disable all nuclear weapons facilities and provide a complete declaration of its atomic programs by year's end, although she left room to miss the deadline.
Saying the United States has "no permanent enemies," Rice held open the chance for a fundamentally new U.S.-North Korean relationship. She also said relations with Iran could improve, so long as it complies with international demands for Iran to halt uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities that could make the ingredients for a bomb.
"We have been very clear that we expect a declaration from North Korea that is complete and accurate," Rice said, reiterating Washington's position that Pyongyang must describe all of its nuclear activities, including possible sales of equipment to other nations and its alleged dabbling in uranium enrichment to complement a known plutonium program.
Rice would not comment on a report about the discovery by U.S. scientists of uranium traces on aluminum tubes in North Korea, apparently contradicting Pyongyang's claim that its acquisition of the tubes was for conventional purposes. Such tubes could be used in the process of converting hot uranium gas into fuel for nuclear weapons.
But she said: "We have long been concerned about highly enriched uranium as an alternative (nuclear weapons) route in North Korea."
The declaration is due by Dec. 31, which is also the technical deadline for the disabling of North Korea's plutonium plant at Yongbyon, now under way. However, diplomats have said the North would likely not be safely able to complete one key disablement step — removing the fuel rods from its reactor — for several months.
"I sincerely hope it will be by the end of the year, but the key is to get this process right," Rice said.
If North Korea meets its commitments, the U.S. has said it will remove the North from terrorism and sanctions blacklists and enter into talks to forge a permanent peace deal to end the Korean War.
"The United States doesn't have permanent enemies, we're too great a country for that," Rice said, explaining the opportunities available to nations like North Korea, Iran and Libya, which renounced weapons of mass destruction and in return won the lifting of U.S. and U.N. sanctions.
"On Iran, I continue to say that if Iran will just do the one thing that is required of it by the Security Council resolutions that have been passed — and that is suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities — then I'm prepared to meet my counterpart any place and anytime and anywhere and we can talk about anything," she said.
However, she warned that the Iranians would not get a pass on the matter.
Iran has thus far refused to comply with the international demands and Rice said that "as long as the Iranians are talking and practicing enrichment, we're not getting anywhere."
Rice pointed to the fact that she will be meeting in Washington next month with Libya's foreign minister as proof of the benefits that come to countries that change their behavior.
"I'm looking for an opportunity to extend our relationship further," she said, adding that she hopes to visit Libya despite concerns from some lawmakers that Tripoli has still not fulfilled obligations to compensate victims of terrorist attacks. "I actually look forward to the opportunity to go to Libya. I think it will be an important step."
On another matter, Rice, just returned from a trip to Iraq, said progress has been made reducing violence there since 30,000 troops were added earlier this year, bringing the total to more than 160,000.
"Iraq today is a different country than it was a year ago," she said. But she also called the security gains fragile and said long-term success hinges on the Iraqis settling their political differences.