WASHINGTON – President Bush is set to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of terrorist-sponsoring nations as early as today in an end-of-term bid to save a deal to eliminate the secretive communist nation’s nuclear weapons program, State Department officials said Friday.
The move was being finalized Friday after consultations with U.S. ally Japan, which opposes the action, and what appears to have been a fierce internal debate within the Bush administration, said the officials.
Bush agreed earlier this year to remove North Korea from the terrorist list as part of a pact to freeze its nuclear weapons work, account for nuclear facilities and eventually eliminate its small nuclear arsenal.
But the deal stalled after North Korea rejected a U.S. proposal for intrusive weapons inspections to verify Pyongyang’s declaration of its nuclear facilities. With its leader, Kim Jong-il, reportedly ailing, North Korea in recent weeks has taken steps to reactivate its Yongbyon nuclear reactor.
By acting now, Bush hopes to salvage an agreement that could give him a foreign policy achievement in the waning days of his tenure.