WASHINGTON -- The White House said Wednesday that it could move to take North Korea off a terrorism blacklist "quite soon" after - and if - the North delivers an accounting of its nuclear programs.
Washington hoped the secretive Stalinist nation would provide its long overdue "declaration" as early as Thursday, although a senior US official has already said that an inventory of Pyongyang's atomic arsenal will come later.
Asked how quickly a full accounting would trigger removal from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino replied: "We'll have to wait and see. It could be quite soon if that were to happen."
"We just don't know if they're actually going to do it," said Perino.
Washington also plans to remove North Korea from the Trading with the Enemy Act, a law restricting trade with countries hostile to the United States, leaving Cuba as the only country affected by that legislation.
Separately, US President George W. Bush sought to dampen anger from close ally Japan, which says Pyongyang must first come clean on abductions of Japanese nationals, in a telephone call with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Bush stressed that he grasped "the importance of the abductee issue," said Perino, who indicated that resolving the matter would not be a precondition for taking North Korea off the terrorism list.
Perino said the US position had not changed since US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signaled in a mid-June speech that Bush could move to take North Korea off the two blacklists upon receipt of the declaration.
Under US law, Bush would notify the US Congress he planned to take Pyongyang off the terrorism list, triggering a 45-day review period, during which, Rice said, the United States would assess the declaration for accuracy.
US congressional sources said they expected no widespread opposition to the move, but that key lawmakers would likely call hearings on the nuclear dispute.
The North was put on the list in 1988 after its agents were found to have bombed a South Korean airliner the previous year, killing all 115 people on board.
And Pyongyang has admitted to being involved in the abduction of foreign citizens, mainly Japanese citizens, in the past.
The terror designation prevents the impoverished state from receiving US economic aid and blocks loans from the World Bank and other multilateral organizations.
Remaining US statutory sanctions on North Korea include those affecting trade in military, dual-use, and missile-related items, while most forms of US economic assistance, other than purely humanitarian assistance, are prohibited.
There are also UN sanctions against North Korea, including those imposed after it tested a nuclear bomb in October 2006.
The declaration -- which is almost six months overdue -- will list all nuclear material, facilities and programs, while its weapons will be dealt with in the next phase, US chief negotiator Christopher Hill said this week.
Asked why Washington would move to lift sanctions without that information, Perino said that China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United States had weapons experts on the ground and "so I think that we have to have faith."
The declaration will be the latest step in six-nation talks which have dragged on since 2003. Some analysts see them going on for years, as negotiators try to persuade the secretive state to give up its weapons.
One day after submitting its declaration, the North is set to topple its nuclear cooling tower at the Yongbyon atomic complex the tower in the presence of a senior US diplomat and foreign TV crews as a symbol of its commitment to the process.