U.S. officials said Monday they expect North Korea to make its long-awaited declaration of its nuclear program this week,  probably Thursday. The action would open the way to the next phase of the six-party deal under which Pyongyang is to scrap its nuclear program in return for aid and diplomatic benefits. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Bush administration officials say they expect the declaration Thursday based on comments by North Korean officials.

But they're expressing caution, noting that past timetables have slipped, and also stressing that the declaration must be verified if Pyongyang is to reap promised benefits.

North Korea was to have made the declaration of its nuclear possessions and activities at the end of last year, and the delay has stalled implementation of the six-party accord.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Thursday is a deadline for the declaration cited by North Korea itself, but that if follow-on actions are to be taken the document must be reviewed and considered verifiable.

In a talk with reporters here, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the Bush administration is ready, on receipt of the declaration to inform Congress of its intention to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But Casey noted that by U.S. law there is a 45-day waiting period for the decision to be enacted, and during that time verification steps must get underway:

"One thing that's extremely important to us, presuming we get a declaration and that announcement is then made, is that we will use that 45 days as an opportunity to work on the verification process," said Tom Casey. "And certainly there would be consequences in that process, should it be determined that North Korea is not complying with the verification terms, or has otherwise not provided the kind of declaration that everyone hoped for."

The chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, is holding consultations in Beijing and would be ready to join in a meeting of all six delegation chiefs if the North Korean declaration is indeed submitted.

North Korea has indicated it is ready to demolish the cooling tower of its Yongbyon nuclear complex as a show of good faith after submitting the declaration.

Spokesman Casey said U.S. officials monitoring the disablement of the Yongbyon reactor would witness the demolition. He said Assistant Secretary Hill has no plans himself to attend the event or to visit Pyongyang this week.

Hill is expected to remain in the region to brief Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who begins a visit to Japan, South Korea and China later this week.

Rice told reporters traveling with her to Germany Monday that if North Korea submits a complete and accurate declaration it would be an important step that would trigger several reciprocal actions including "de-listing" Pyongyang as a terrorism sponsor.

At the same time, Rice told a questioner the United States is not going to "set aside or forget" the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean intelligence agents in the 1970's and 1980's.

Japanese officials have opposed dropping North Korea from the terrorism list, and lifting associated economic sanctions without a resolution of the abduction issue.

Rice in the airborne news conference credited U.S. pressure for a North Korean agreement with Japan last week to reopen investigations of the abduction cases.

She said she recognizes it is a "wounding issue" for Japan, and one which the United States will continue to press North Korea on to make certain it is dealt with.