WASHINGTON – The United States said Monday it would not remove North Korea from a terror blacklist until Kim Jong Il's government has agreed to a plan to allow international inspectors to verify an accounting of its nuclear programs.
Monday was the soonest that the United States could have taken North Korea off the state sponsor of terror list, which Washington said it would do in exchange for Pyongyang's disclosure of its nuclear programs in June. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters that the North, which exploded a nuclear device in 2006, would not receive the concession until there was a "strong verification regime" in place.
The North views its presence on the State Department list, which also includes Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, as evidence of U.S. hostility. It will prove difficult for the five nations pushing North Korea to abandon its atomic weapons to reach a disarmament agreement unless it is removed from the blacklist.
Wood would not provide specifics when asked what obstacles stood in the way of the North's agreement to a "verification regime" that the United States wanted. "The North Koreans know what they have to do in putting together that regime," he said.
"It's really up to the North Koreans," he said. "We sit and wait."
The United States wants to verify whether the North turned in a correct account of its nuclear activity and facilities in June in a step toward their dismantlement and eventual abandonment. Verification is expected to take months to finish.
North Korea has not been tied directly to terrorism since its agents planted a bomb on a South Korean commercial jetliner in 1987. It is eager to be removed from the U.S. blacklist.
Countries on the list face restrictions on foreign aid, a ban on defense sales and other sanctions that can hinder the acquisition of U.S. technology or doing business with U.S. financial institutions. The designation also could discourage U.S. allies and multinational corporations from dealing with the designated nations, and getting off the list is a sign of a return to the global community.
Wood said he was not aware of "any hint from them of late" when asked about North Korea's communication with the U.S. about its plans on verification.
"The North Koreans know exactly what it is that we require," Wood said. "Our policy is basically action for action, and we need to see that verification regime, and that's what we wait for."
After Kim's government handed over a long-awaited accounting of its nuclear bomb-making abilities as part of six-nation nuclear negotiations, the Americans agreed to begin the process of removing the North from its terror list. Monday was the first day in a 45-day period during which that could have been done.
The North's June declaration contained less about its nuclear programs than what the Bush administration had sought. The North disclosed nothing about a suspected uranium enrichment program or its alleged role in helping Syria build a reactor.
The North is believed to have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium to make as many as 10 nuclear bombs. The United States has accused Pyongyang of running a second weapons program based on uranium.