U.S. says North Korea remains on terrorism list

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Top U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said on Tuesday that North Korea must do more to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme before it can be removed from Washington’s list of states that sponsor terrorism.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill addresses a media briefing outside the U.S. Mission after bilateral talks with North Korea in Geneva in this file photo from September 2, 2007. Hill on Tuesday rebuffed North Korea's claim that Washington has agreed to remove Pyongyang from a list of states that sponsor terrorism, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

On Monday, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the United States had agreed during bilateral talks in Geneva to take North Korea off the list.

“They are not off this list,” Hill told reporters in Sydney, which is hosting the annual meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. He flew in from Geneva, where he had met North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan over the weekend.

“Whether they get off will depend on further denuclearization,” added Hill, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Japan’s top government spokesman also said Tokyo had not heard of any U.S. decision to take North Korea off the list, which currently also includes Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

“The United States has told us that there would be no delisting until (North Korea) disables its nuclear facilities,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano told reporters.

North Korea was put on Washington’s blacklist in January 1988 after a North Korean agent confessed to the 1987 bombing of a South Korean passenger jet over the Indian Ocean that killed all 115 people on board.

North Korea said it had agreed with the United States in Geneva to take “practical measures to neutralize the existing nuclear facilities in the DPRK (North Korea) within this year”, KCNA quoted the Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying on Monday.

“In return for this, the U.S. decided to take such political and economic measures for compensation as delisting the DPRK as a terrorism sponsor and lifting all sanctions that have been applied according to the Trading with the Enemy Act,” the unnamed spokesman was quoted as saying.

Hill said in Geneva that the communist state had agreed to fully account for and disable its nuclear program by the end of the year. He confirmed the delegations had discussed the terms under which Washington would drop North Korea from its terrorism list.

The blacklist imposes a ban on arms-related sales, keeps the economically isolated country from receiving U.S. economic aid and requires the United States to oppose loans by the World Bank and other international financial institutions.

Tokyo has been pressing Washington not to take the North off the list until the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the past is resolved.

Japan is demanding the return and information of the abductees, but North Korea insists the issue has been resolved after it allowed a number of former abductees and their families to return in 2002 and 2004.