U.S. officials say they expect North Korea to make its long-delayed declaration about its nuclear program on Thursday, and if it does the Bush administration is ready to begin dropping sanctions against Pyongyang.  A senior State Department official is heading to North Korea for the demolition, expected Friday, of a key element of the country's Yongbyon nuclear site. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials in Washington say they are taking nothing for granted, given the delays that have put the six-party Korean disarmament deal several months behind schedule.

But they say all indications are that North Korea will submit the declaration to the Chinese sponsors of the talks sometime Thursday, and that the United States is prepared to immediately begin reciprocal steps if that occurs.

North Korea agreed in a deal finalized last year to end  its nuclear program in exchange for aid and diplomatic benefits from the other parties to the talks.

North Korea has shut down and is in the process of disabling the Yongbyon reactor complex that produced the plutonium for the nuclear weapon it tested in 2006.

The declaration, in which Pyongyang is to list all its nuclear holdings and activities, was due at the end of last year and is to open the way to the next phase of the accord.

In a talk with reporters, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the Bush administration is ready - once the declaration is submitted - to fulfill its side of the deal.

That means dropping long-standing trade sanctions against North Korea under the 1917 Trading-With-The-Enemy Act, and informing Congress of its intention to remove that country from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Casey stressed that in the 45-day period before North Korea is dropped from the terrorism list, the United States and other parties to the accord will put in place a mechanism to verify the facts of the nuclear declaration.

The spokesman, acknowledging skepticism about the deal among some members of Congress, stressed that North Korea will not reap the full benefits of the agreement unless it keeps its commitment to completely scrap its nuclear program.

"Frankly the net effect of the removal of North Korea from the terrorism list, and the Trading-With-The-Enemy Act, is actually quite minimal.  So again, I think we are proceeding in a cautious manner.  We are proceeding in a manner that we believe appropriate, that responds action-for-action and good-faith actions for good-faith actions by the North Koreans," he said.

North Korea is expected to underscore its commitment to the six-party deal on Friday by demolishing, with explosive charges, the massive cooling tower of the Yongbyon reactor.

Casey said State Department Korean Affairs Director Sung Kim will attend the event, expected to be broadcast live, along with representatives of the other parties to the accord, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

He said Kim will also hold talks with North Korean officials on verifying the declaration.

The six-party accord is to lead eventually to normalized relations between North Korea and both the United States and Japan.

The White House says President Bush spoke by telephone Wednesday with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to stress U.S. understanding of Japanese concern about North Korean abductions of Japanese nationals.

More than a dozen Japanese are believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s and Pyongyang has still not accounted for all of them.

Japan had voiced opposition to removing North Korea from the U.S. terrorism list until the abduction issue is fully resolved.

Bush administration officials say they raise the matter at every opportunity with the North Koreans, and it must be resolved to the satisfaction of Japan before the six-party deal comes to a final conclusion.