KYOTO, Japan – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she expected developments on North Korea's long-delayed nuclear declaration within hours, as she arrived in Japan to attend a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said an announcement on North Korea's declaration would be made later Thursday in a special news conference. He did not elaborate.
Washington said earlier this week that Thursday was the deadline for the North to hand over an accounting of its nuclear program. In exchange, the U.S. said it will move to lift sanctions and remove North Korea from the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.
Rice stressed that any moves the United States makes in response to the declaration would be subject to the verification of the North Korean documents.
"Obviously, the weapons and all the programs are going to have to be dealt with and dismantled if we are to have denuclearization and it's going to have to be done so verifiably," she said.
North Korea is not obligated to provide specific details of its actual nuclear weapons in the declaration — which will happen in the next stage of the disarmament negotiations — but Rice said the documents would provide key information about their arsenal.
The North is expected in the declaration to say how much plutonium it has produced at its main reactor facility.
"If we can verifiably determine the amount of plutonium that has been made, we then have an upper hand in understanding what may have happened in terms of weaponization," Rice said.
Once the North presents the declaration, the White House will announce it intends to lift two politically symbolic groups of sanctions against Pyongyang.
U.S. President George W. Bush has the power to immediately exempt North Korea from sanctions under the Trading With the Enemy Act, a World War I-era law that currently only limits trade with Cuba and North Korea. However, North Korea is subject to those same sanctions under other U.S. laws.
The White House will also notify Congress that it intends to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
It would be a remarkable turnabout for the U.S. after Bush once branded North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But the United States is wary of North Korea's intentions because of its history of secrecy and broken promises.
In an opinion piece published in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Rice said Washington was approaching the matter with deep skepticism.
"Any effort to denuclearize the Korean peninsula must contend with the fact that North Korea is the most secretive and opaque regime on the planet," she wrote. "We will not accept that statement on faith. We will insist on verification."
The U.S. actions will close one phase of a step-by-step disarmament plan with Pyongyang and clear the way for the Bush administration's highest-ever diplomatic engagement with North Korea, a meeting attended by Rice and her North Korean counterpart as soon as next month.
From there, the North is obligated to continue working to shut down and dismantle its plutonium reactor complex while the United States and other partners reward the North with further economic incentives.
The United States, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia have been negotiating with North Korea to give up its nuclear program. North Korea missed an end-of-2007 deadline to turn over a full inventory of its programs and a description of its spread of nuclear technology to others.
Japan has argued that any U.S. decision to remove North Korea from a list of terrorist nations should be linked to progress in solving North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 80s.
Bush on Wednesday called Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and told the Japanese premier that he understands Tokyo's concern about Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea.
Rice repeated that sentiment on Thursday.
"That is of great concern not just to Japan but to the United States as well," she said. "It is a major human rights issue. ... "We are continuing to expect the North Koreans to take this issue seriously."