SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Monday the United States had agreed to remove it from its list of countries that support terrorism, a move Pyongyang has long sought to receive more aid and hopefully end its status as a global pariah.
The chief U.S. negotiator has hinted that Washington could remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism before it completely gives up its nuclear arms program.
But his government has not said it has decided to strike Pyongyang from the list, which currently also includes Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
North Korea said it agreed in talks at the weekend in Geneva with the United States to take “practical measures to neutralize the existing nuclear facilities in the DPRK (North Korea) within this year,” its KCNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
“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 cited as saying.
U.S. negotiator Christopher 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 but he did not say what, if anything, he had offered in return for the latest pledge.
He confirmed the delegations had discussed the terms under which Washington would drop North Korea from its terrorism list.
Pyongyang was put on the U.S. terrorism list based on the confession of a North Korean agent over the mid-air explosion of a South Korean passenger jet over the sea off Myanmar in 1987.
The designation 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.
The North Korean announcement comes amid a flow of positive developments to rid it of nuclear arms.
This is in stark contrast to a year ago when the reclusive state was further isolated for a defiant missile test in July 2006 and its first nuclear test three months later, which led to U.N. sanctions and a blow to its sparse international trade.
After months of sputtering diplomacy, impoverished North Korea agreed in February at six-country talks to start winding down its nuclear program in exchange for energy aid.
In July, it shut a Soviet-era reactor and plant that turns spent fuel into weapons-grade plutonium.
It also invited back U.N. nuclear watchdog personnel for the first time since late 2002, when Pyongyang threw them out of the country after a 1994 disarmament deal collapsed.
North Korea’s already anemic economy was dealt a heavy blow by flooding last month that killed hundreds and inflicted widespread damage to its farm and manufacturing sectors.