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All Headlines 10:43 June 26, 2008


Pyongyang's Submission of Nuclear Declaration Imminent

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The long-awaited submission of North Korea's nuclear programs is most likely to take place on June 26, with simultaneous steps by Washington to remove Pyongyang from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Also, in a highly symbolic gesture, North Korea plans to destroy the cooling tower of its main nuclear facilities, probably on June 27, to demonstrate its desire to denuclearize.

The declaration is expected to come nearly eight months since the last round of the six-party talks, as Washington and Pyongyang were at odds over the scope and content of the North's list of programs.

As the submission of the declaration appears imminent, the nations involved in the six-party talks are focusing on the verification work in the communist country's next phase of denuclearization.

The United States said on June 25 that it is ready to begin lifting sanctions on North Korea "quite soon" after the North provides a complete declaration of its nuclear programs. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino hoped the North will soon submit the list so "it gives us further progress on our steps to cooperate on other goals, such as a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula; a normalization of relations; a new mechanism to cooperate on peace and security in Northeast Asia."

South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Kim Sook, said that the declaration will be a starting point for a set of planned steps, which include removing the North from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring nations, blowing up the cooling tower and restarting the six-way talks.

Kim said on June 22 that North Korea has invited five foreign media outlets, including U.S. cable news channel CNN, to visit its main nuclear facilities in Yongbyon to cover the demolition of the cooling tower. Sources said South Korea's main broadcaster, MBC, is among those invited. The North's invitation is a clear sign that efforts to advance the six-way talks on ending North Korea's nuclear program are making headway.

While in Beijing to discuss the resumption of the six-party talks, chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill told reporters on June 23, "One of the first things we want to do in that next phase is to define the scope of the next phase, and what we're going to try to accomplish in that next phase."

The cash-strapped socialist country is also calling on the U.S. and other related nations to shoulder the financial burden for the demolition of the cooling tower at the nuclear complex north of Pyongyang, a South Korean government official said. "As far as I know, North Korea and the U.S. reached a compromise that North Korea is to submit the declaration around June 26 to China, and the U.S. will soon take steps to remove it from the list of terrorism-sponsoring nations," said the official.

A diplomatic source said the North is demanding money for destroying the cooling tower. The North and its nuclear dialogue partners -- the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan -- are in consultations over the issue, the source added. In the end, South Korea is likely to shoulder much of the cost for destroying the cooling tower, sources said.

The six-way talks are expected to resume early next month, according to the sources. Kim Sook said that his country, the U.S. and Japan agreed to reconvene the talks as early as possible. "But no date has been fixed yet, as China chairs the talks and North Korea's intention is important," Kim told reporters upon returning from Tokyo, where he had a trilateral meeting with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts. He also cited a need to coordinate the schedule with Russia.

Kim denied media speculation that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may visit North Korea to view the demolition of the cooling tower. Instead, Sung Kim, the State Department's top Korea expert, plans to visit North Korea for the event. Kim arrived in Seoul on June 24 on his way to the North.

Informed sources said North Korea's top nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, may bring the declaration document with him to Beijing, or his government might fax it. The U.S. will likely begin the delisting process one or two days after the declaration is presented.

Sung Kim, the State Department's director of Korean affairs, has been in charge of discussing the verification work with the North for the past several weeks through a series of high-profile visits to Pyongyang. On May 8, he returned with boxes containing some 18,000 pages of documents, including operational logs, from the Yongbyon facilities.

Japan, the most hesitant member of the six-party talks, is also likely to endorse the latest progress, diplomatic sources added. Tokyo had opposed removing sanctions against Pyongyang as part of the incentives, citing the long-standing dispute over the fate of Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

Japan and North Korea held discussions earlier in June and agreed to reinvestigate the kidnapping cases. Secretary of State Rice assured Tokyo that the matter will still be on the table.

"This issue is not going away, and we're going to continue to press North Korea to make certain that this issue is dealt with," she told reporters on her way to Berlin to attend a conference. Rice will join the G-8 ministerial talks in Japan and then fly to Seoul on June 28 for bilateral talks.

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