Page last updated at 22:21 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 23:21 UK

US to ease North Korea sanctions

George W Bush cautiously welcomes the belated declaration

The US has agreed to scrap some of its sanctions on North Korea, after the isolated state handed over long-awaited details of its nuclear programme.

US President George W Bush promised to rescind the Trading with the Enemy Act - although many other sanctions against Pyongyang will remain in place.

The North now intends to blow up a cooling tower from its main reactor.

Pyongyang agreed to scrap its nuclear ambitions 16 months ago in return for aid and diplomatic concessions.

But six-nation talks on the North's nuclear plans stalled at the end of last year when Pyongyang missed a deadline to provide its account of the programme.

The document handed over to China on Thursday is six months overdue and is not certain to satisfy the international community.

It is expected to cover the North's plutonium production activities, but analysts believe it will not address other key issues including a suspected uranium enrichment programme.

Plutonium and enriched uranium can both be used to manufacture weapons - but the North has always denied having a weapons programme.

The Yongbyon cooling tower on 14 February 2008
2002: N Korea pulls out of previous deal after US accuses it of having secret uranium programme
October 2006: North Korea carries out its first test of a nuclear weapon
February 2007: N Korea agrees to end nuclear activities in return for aid
July 2007: North Korea closes its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows IAEA inspectors in
December 2007: N Korea misses a deadline to hand over a declaration of its nuclear work
June 2008: N Korea hands over nuclear programme details; US cautiously welcomes the move

Pyongyang's move appears to have breathed new life into the six-party talks - which include Russia, North and South Korea, the US, Japan and China.

Russia has suggested restarting the meetings as early as next week.

And President Bush not only pledged to lift some sanctions on the North, but also said he would remove the Stalinist regime from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Removal from the terror list would pave the way towards lifting many of the most stringent sanctions.

However, Mr Bush was clear that moves to take the country from the terror list would not begin for 45 days, and would start only if the North's claims were verified.

"We remain deeply concerned about North Korea's human rights abuses, uranium enrichment activities, nuclear testing and proliferation, ballistic missile programmes and the threat it continues to pose to South Korea and its neighbours," he said.

"It will remain one of the most heavily-sanctioned nations in the world."

Lifting the Trading with the Enemy Act has no effect on key restrictions on weapons proliferation, illicit financing activities and money laundering.

And officials said Washington could re-impose sanctions if Pyongyang's declaration failed to live up to expectations.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the ultimate issue now is what will be done about the small stockpile of highly-enriched nuclear material diplomats believe the North has stashed away.

And the possibility that the country has managed to build a small number of weapons has not even been touched on yet, our correspondent says.

Another potential stumbling block is the allegation that the North helped Syria to build a nuclear facility - a claim denied by Pyongyang.

The next move for North Korea is the destruction of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon reactor. The plant was disabled last year, and the tower's destruction will be televised.

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