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US Officials: North Korean Nuclear Declaration May be Imminent

U.S. officials said Friday they expect North Korea to make its long-awaited declaration on its nuclear program very soon, perhaps within the next few days. The chief U.S. envoy to the disarmament process, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, is holding talks on the issue in China, host of the six-party talks. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

U.S. diplomats are cautious, given the history of delays, but they say the declaration is likely to be handed over to China before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begins a visit to the region next week.

North Korea was due to have made the declaration of all its nuclear programs, holdings and activities - including any involvement in nuclear proliferation - at the end of last year.

The delay has held up other aspects of the February 2007 accord, under which Pyongyang is to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for aid and diplomatic benefits from other parties to the talks.

After a meeting Friday in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei, U.S. delegate Hill said he expects delivery of the declaration very soon, which he said would immediately trigger a meeting of all six delegation chiefs - in first in several months.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the expectation is based not just on hope, but diplomatic contacts with the North Koreans. He said the United States has a good idea of what the declaration will contain, given recent talks with North Korean officials by Hill and State Department Korean affairs chief Sung Kim, and the trove of nuclear documents handed over to the United States last month.

"We've talked to them about it," he noted. "That was what Sung Kim's and Chris Hill's discussions were in large part about with them: what the declaration would look like. And, of course, we have the documents that are being analyzed now, the 19,000 documents, so I think we have a good sense what might be in a North Korean declaration once they hand it over. But again, it's not done until it's handed over to the Chinese."

Secretary Rice said in a policy speech Wednesday the North Korean declaration would trigger action on U.S. obligations in the six-party accord, including removing Pyongyang from the U.S. list of state-sponsors of terrorism, and lifting related sanctions.

A U.S. official who spoke to reporters here said Hill will remain in China for a few days in anticipation of the six-way meeting, and then in the middle of next week will join up with Secretary Rice at the start of her Asia trip in Kyoto, Japan.

Rice will attend a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in Kyoto, and then go on to stops in South Korea and China likely to be dominated by discussion of the six-party process.