Published June 26, 2008
WASHINGTON – Pledging "action for action," President Bush on Thursday said North Korea has demonstrated a commitment to dismantling its nuclear weapons program and will be rewarded by being removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors and having trade sanctions lifted.
The president spoke hours after North Korea submitted its long-awaited declaration detailing its nuclear weapons activities. The government said that it would televise the demolition of the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear facility on Friday, and turned over documents to China about its plutonium core and waste activities.
"Today is a positive day and it's a positive step forward," Bush said from the White House Rose Garden. "My point is this: We'll see. They said they are going to destroy parts of their plant in Pyongyang. That's a very positive step."
But Bush added, "We will trust you only to the extent that you fulfill your promises. I'm pleased with the progress ... there are no illusions, this is the first step."
Bush said that in response to North Korea, 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.
"The two actions America is taking will have real impact on North Korea's financial and diplomatic isolation," he said.
U.N. Security Council resolutions remain intact, however, and other requirements still must be met, including an accounting of several Japanese citizens who were abducted in the 1970s and '80s.
Ahead of the president's remarks, the White House issued a statement on Thursday morning welcoming the North Korean nuclear declaration. However, it noted that in order to "end its isolation," North Korea must "resolve outstanding questions on its highly enriched uranium and proliferation activities."
The declaration does not do that despite the Feb. 13, 2007, road map for the "action for action" phase of the larger denuclearization accord, which obligated North Korea to provide "a complete declaration of all nuclear programs" by Dec. 31, 2007.
Outstanding are still questions on the extent of uranium enrichment and proliferation -- mainly to Syria. Likewise, it does not include the number and location of nuclear bombs, of which North Korea is believed to have at least a half dozen.
At most, the declaration "acknowledges" U.S. concerns about those details. Likewise, while the cooling tower explosion will be verifiable, it is only one element of a nuclear track and can be rebuilt in a year if the government of Kim Jong-il has a change of heart.
A U.S. official said North Korea has agreed to intensive U.S. verification of its plutonium production for nuclear weapons. Paperwork handed over to Chinese officials contains detailed data on the amount of plutonium produced during each of several rounds of production at a now-shuttered plutonium reactor.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. will check North Korea's math through a combination of documents, interviews and onsite visits to the reactor.
Speaking after the president, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley reiterated that North Korea's declaration was only a stepping stone and said concerns over the program remain. Although North Korea declared its nuclear weapons program defunct, its involvement with Syria, and the amount of plutonium produced and uranium enrichment need to be explored, he said.
"Our intelligence community has some concerns about their past activities, and has some concerns about potentially ongoing activities. And we have been learning more about these potential activities as part of the six-party process," Hadley said.
Hadley also downplayed the level of freedom North Korea will receive through the lifting of sanctions. He said the new rule will ease licensing for Americans who want to import North Korean goods, allow more Americans to participate in shipments of third-party goods to North Korea and lift prohibitions with some financial transactions between Americans and the North Korean government. The U.S. also agreed to increase fuel oil shipments to North Korea in response to their declaration.
But he noted that the president also immediately issued an executive order broadening prohibitions on interaction between Americans and North Korean boats and freezing some assets.
"These are symbolic acts," Hadley said of the gestures made by Bush. "They have some consequences in terms of easing sanctions. I will tell you, and the North Koreans understand, that the degree of easing sanctions is relatively minor."
Bush said that the Six Party Talks yielded success in returning North Korea to the international community, "much the way Libya has done in the past few years." But if Pyongyang does not respond to additional requirements, "there will be further consequences."
"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.
"The diplomatic process is not an end in itself. Our ultimate goal remains clear: a stable North Korean peninsula," Bush said.
FOX News' Greg Palkot and Greg Simmons and The Associated Press contributed to this report.