Taking North Korea Off The List

After twenty years, North Korea has been taken off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Why is it so important for North Korea to be removed from the list and why did the U.S. agree to do it? Liane Hansen speaks with NPR's Mike Shuster.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

After 20 years, North Korea has been taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The U.S. took that step yesterday in order to get negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear activities back on track. NPR's Mike Shuster joins us to tell us more. Mike, why is it so important to North Korea to be removed from the list?

MIKE SHUSTER: Well, it appears that the North Korean leaders see this removal from this list of state sponsors of terrorism as a first step toward ultimate normalization of relations with the United States, political and economic. Removing North Korea from this list can lead to the lifting of some sanctions, and there are many, many sanctions, economic and political sanctions, against North Korea stretching back all the way to the Korean War.

And it could begin a process where North Korea gains access to international financial institutions. So the North Koreans wanted this step in return for the disabling of their nuclear facilities, which they've been carrying out over the course of the last year. The United States promised it to them earlier this year, but then didn't deliver.

HANSEN: Why did the U.S. agree to do it now?

SHUSTER: Well, the United States agreed to do it now because the denuclearization deal with North Korea was coming apart. The North Koreans, as I said, had disabled much of their nuclear facilities, and ended that last June with a well-publicized explosion of the cooling tower of a nuclear reactor, which was broadcast worldwide on television. And the North Koreans expected then the United States to come back with de-listing.

When that didn't happen and the United States wanted further assurances that U.S. inspectors could verify everything that the North Koreans have as far as their nuclear program is concerned, the North Koreans cried foul and then over the past two weeks started to rebuild their nuclear facilities. That alarmed the United States and the other states that are involved in the six-party process of negotiation with North Korea. And so the pressure was on the United States to do something.

HANSEN: There have been two key questions that have been real deal-breakers between the United States and North Korea. The first is, is North Korea enriching uranium? And the second is, is it sharing nuclear technology with other states such as Syria? Have those questions been answered?

SHUSTER: No. Those questions have not been fully answered. In the course of this process, the United States wants those questions to be answered. But it appears that pressure to deal with them now has been put off. In effect, I think the North Koreans have convinced the United States that they're not going to answer those questions right now. They may answer them at a later phase.

The United States hopes that as a part of this verification process, where U.S. inspectors and experts are going to be able to look at much of North Korea's nuclear infrastructure, they might learn something about the possibility that North Korea's enriching uranium, and they might learn something about whether North Korea is sharing its technology with states like Syria. But this looks like a question that has been pushed off down the road for a later stage and for a later administration to deal with.

HANSEN: Are there any assurances that North Korea will actually give up the nuclear weapons it's made?

SHUSTER: No, there are no assurances. This is the end result of the deal as far as the United States and the other states that are negotiating with North Korea. They hope that the North Koreans ultimately will give up whatever bombs they've made. But at least at this stage of the game in disabling their nuclear facilities, they've stopped the production of plutonium, which prevents them from building more bombs now.

HANSEN: NPR's Mike Shuster. Mike, thanks a lot.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Liane.

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