- Kim Jong-Il - North Korea - nuclear power - nuclear proliferation - terrorism - USA
South Korea said Sunday that a US decision to take North Korea off its terrorism blacklist put the communist state's nuclear disarmament back on track, but a Japanese minister called the move "extremely regrettable."
Seoul's top nuclear envoy Kim Sook said he now expects six-party talks to resume "as early as possible" to finalise procedures on verifying disarmament, although a date has not been confirmed with talks host China.
The United States announced Saturday that it had removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism after reaching an agreement on how to verify its nuclear programme.
The row over verification and delisting had left a hard-won 2007 accord on disarmament close to collapse, with the North -- which tested a nuclear device for the first time in October 2006 -- threatening to restart a facility which produced weapons-grade plutonium.
"The government appreciates that the measure will contribute to putting six-party talks back on track, a move that will eventually lead to North Korea's nuclear abandonment," Kim told reporters.
The talks group the two Koreas with the United States, Russia, China and Japan.
The United States insisted it needed agreement on verification before it delisted North Korea, a move which clears the way for some bilateral economic aid and possible assistance from the World Bank and other multilateral bodies.
Japan had urged Washington not to delist North Korea, pressing first for more information on the fate of Japanese kidnapped by the North in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.
"It's extremely regrettable, and I believe abductions amount to terrorist acts," Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told Japanese reporters in Washington at a Group of Seven meeting of finance ministers.
"I don't think the United States made the decision after a close consultation with its ally Japan."
Kim refused to disclose details of the three-page verification accord. He said the six-party members will have to formally approve it and then work out concrete plans to implement it.
"A key is if North Korea will cooperate in the verification process with sincerity," Kim said.
The US State Department said North Korea had agreed to verification of all of its nuclear facilities, including its alleged uranium-based programme and suspected proliferation.
"Every element of verification that we sought is included in this package," said spokesman Sean McCormack.
The deal allows for outside experts to visit both declared and undeclared sites in North Korea, take and remove samples and equipment for analysis, view documents and interview staff, US officials said.
However, visits to sites not included in the North's nuclear declaration delivered in June will require "mutual consent."
The June declaration did not directly address US suspicions of a secret enriched uranium programme or of proliferation. It covered only the admitted plutonium operation based at Yongbyon.
"It's an agreement for an agreement's sake," said Kim Taewoo, of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.
"There exists a risk of North Korea and others interpreting it arbitrarily. They claim that they have agreed on what had actually not been agreed on," he told AFP.
He said he suspected the United States and North Korea both had "political reasons" to reach this kind of agreement to pacify hardline critics at home.
Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the US Brookings Institution, told South Korea's Yonhap news agency he has "no illusions that there will be no impasses in the future."
He said the wording of "mutual consent" for verification inspections and sampling "virtually guarantees that there will be more disagreements."