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All Headlines 10:40 May 08, 2008


U.S. Keeps N.K. on Terrorism List, But Hints at Possible Removal

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- As of May 7, North Korea had yet to respond to the U.S. decision to keep Pyongyang on its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. The communist country has also kept mum on the U.S. revelation on April 24 that the North proliferated nuclear technology to Syria.

In addition to the disclosure of the suspected Syria connection, the United States on April 30 kept North Korea on the list but reaffirmed its commitment to remove the communist country once Pyongyang fulfills its denuclearization obligations. The report, which assesses developments in 2007, does not mention the U.S. announcement that North Korea helped Syria, another country accused of abetting terrorism, build a covert nuclear reactor.

The report, titled "Country Reports on Terrorism," has been closely watched in recent years after the U.S. offered to take the North off the list as one of the incentives for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and programs under six-nation agreements. South and North Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan are members of the talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea was put on the list, joining Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, in January 1988 after its agents bombed a South Korean airliner in November the preceding year. All 115 people aboard the plane were killed. The report said North Korea is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since then.

Getting off the list is one of Pyongyang's most coveted benefits, since it would lift wide-ranging prohibitions that effectively restrict economic assistance and diplomatic interchanges.

After striking a September 2005 deal under which Pyongyang agreed to eventually abandon its nuclear programs, the U.S. toned down the segment on North Korea by striking out detailed accounts of the country's past abductions of Japanese citizens.

This year, the report gave more emphasis to the U.S. commitment to delist Pyongyang once conditions are met. "As part of the six-party talks process, the United States reaffirmed its intent to fulfill its commitments regarding the removal of the designation of DPRK (North Korea) as a state sponsor of terrorism in parallel with the DPRK's actions on denuclearization and in accordance with criteria set forth in U.S. law," said the report. Last year's report said the U.S. agreed to "begin the process" of removing North Korea from the list.

But the U.S. intelligence assessment of the North Korea-Syria nuclear connection has complicated the circumstances. Critics, including ones in Congress, argue that Pyongyang cannot be trusted and insist that the U.S. exert more pressure on the regime, which allegedly had nuclear experts in Syria as recently as last fall to help clean up what the U.S. believes was a reactor that was destroyed by an Israeli air raid in September. This year's report does not mention the issue.

Pyongyang's silence is unusual compared with its previous strong denials of any allegations against the isolated country. The North previously mobilized its state-run media or Foreign Ministry spokesman to respond harshly to such allegations as North Korea's involvement in the Banco Delta Asia case for money laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. dollars.

But officials in Seoul explained that the North's reticence is related to its long-held desire for the normalization of relations with the U.S. through the declaration of its nuclear weapons programs and smooth progress of the six-party talks.

Moreover, two separate U.S. teams are currently visiting the North. One is to discuss massive food aid to the North and another team is for discussions on the North's declaration of its nuclear programs to resume the stalled six-party talks.

In Seoul, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow reaffirmed his country will meet its commitment to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism if the communist regime meets its denuclearization requirements.

"In conjunction with the disablement of Yongbyon and North Korea's provision of a complete and correct declaration, the U.S. has promised to remove the DPRK from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states and terminate the application of the Trading With the Enemy Act with respect to the DPRK," Vershbow said on May 1 during his speech at a university in Seoul.

He also said that President Bush has made it clear that, in the context of full denuclearization, the United States is prepared to replace the Korean War armistice agreement with a permanent peace agreement.

Vershbow said, "It's important to remember what North Korea would gain by following through on its commitment to full denuclearization." He said denuclearization would also make it possible for the United States and North Korea to fully normalize relations by opening embassies in each other's capitals and developing trade and exchanges.

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