U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Friday downplayed reports of an early breakthrough in efforts to end North Korea's nuclear program. The Pyongyang government said earlier this week an agreement had been reached on a promised declaration of its nuclear assets and activities. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Rice is making clear that the issue of North Korea's nuclear declaration has not yet been fully resolved, but she says when it is, the United States is ready to meet its obligations under the Chinese-sponsored six-party accord.
The Secretary spoke at a press event with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier against a background of media reports of progress on the North Korean declaration, which had been due at the end of last year and has stalled the nuclear deal.
The North Korean government said flatly Wednesday it had reached agreement with the United States on the declaration and that Washington would respond with political compensation for Pyongyang.
Subsequent news reports quoting U.S. officials said the sides had come up with a way for Pyongyang to acknowledge past uranium enrichment efforts and proliferation activity.
At the press event, Rice did not comment on the reports but expressed caution, saying any North Korean declaration will have to be verifiable and verified.
At the same time, she said if the issue is resolved the United States is absolutely prepared to fulfill its obligations, which include dropping its designation of North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism and otherwise moving to end the communist state's isolation.
"We are not yet at a point at which we can make a judgment as to whether or not the North Koreans have met their obligations and we are therefore not at a point where the United States can make a judgment as to whether or not it's time to exercise our obligations," said Rice. "But when we have made that judgment, we will be prepared to exercise the obligations that we've undertaken.
A Washington Post report Friday said a face-saving formula had been reached under which Pyongyang would only indirectly acknowledge having been involved in proliferation activity, and having had a uranium-enrichment project in addition to its plutonium-based bomb program.
The newspaper said the chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill discussed the arrangement Thursday with key members of the U.S. Congress, where there is conservative skepticism about Pyongyang's sincerity.
Rice's heavy stress here on the need to verify any North Korean declaration appeared aimed at addressing such Congressional concern.
A North Korean declaration would have to be conveyed to China, host of the six party talks, and accepted by other participants also including Russia, South Korea and Japan.