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Rice Says North Korean Nuclear Declaration Coming Soon

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday North Korea will soon produce its long-overdue declaration of its nuclear programs and activities. Rice defended Bush administration policy on the North Korea nuclear issue in an address to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington research organization. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice did not cite reasons for her optimism, but said she expects the declaration to be handed over to the Chinese sponsors of the six-party talks soon, and that the United States will respond by moving to take North Korea off its list of state sponsors of terrorism and dropping related sanctions.

Pyongyang was to have issued the declaration at the end of last year, revealing all its nuclear programs, holdings and activities including any involvement in nuclear proliferation.

The lack of the declaration has slowed implementation of the six-party accord, under which North Korea is to give up its nuclear program including weapons in return for aid and diplomatic benefits from the other parties.

U.S. conservatives, skeptical about dealing with North Korea's communist government, have been prominent critics of the six-party process.

In her speech to the Heritage Foundation, Rice stressed that the United States has given North Korea no significant benefits thus far beyond shipments of heavy fuel oil, and that bad faith by Pyongyang at any point in the process would scuttle the deal.

But she said the United States will keep its end of the bargain if North Korea does the same, including reciprocal steps tied to the promised declaration:

"North Korea will soon give its declaration of nuclear programs to China, the chair of the denuclearization working group," said Condoleezza Rice. "President Bush would then notify Congress of our intention to remove North Korea from the State sponsors of terrorism list, and to cease the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act. In the next 45 days after that, before those actions go into effect, we would continue to assess the level of North Korean cooperation, in helping to verify the accuracy and completeness of its declaration. If that cooperation is insufficient, we will respond accordingly."

Rice said the United States will not just trust Pyongyang on its declaration and disarmament, but demand on rigorous verification including on-site inspection and sampling, and interviews with North Koreas involved in the program.

She said the United States already knows North Korean produced enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons including the device it tested in 2006, and provided nuclear technology to Syria.

But she said U.S. officials have yet to learn, and will insist on being told of, the full extent of North Korean proliferation activity and get a complete account of a what she described as a troubling uranium-enrichment effort by that country.

Rice further assured her audience that the nuclear deal will not stop the United States from pressing for improvement in what she termed the horrible and deplorable condition of the North Korean people.

She said U.S special envoy for North Korean human rights Jay Lefkowitz will soon travel to the region to discuss U.S. concerns with North Korea's neighbors.

Rice herself is due to begin an Asian tour next week starting with a meeting of G-8 foreign ministers in Japan. The chief U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, is traveling in the region this week.