The US administration on Thursday will lift some trade sanctions against North Korea and move to take it off the US terrorism blacklist - a remarkable turnaround in policy toward the communist regime, which President George W. Bush once branded as part of an "axis of evil."
North Korea handed over a long-awaited accounting of its nuclear work to Chinese officials on Thursday, fulfilling a key step in the denuclearization process.
In exchange, the U.S. is fulfilling its promise to erase trade sanctions under the Trading With the Enemy Act, and notify Congress that, in 45 days, it intends to take North Korea off the State Department list of nations that sponsor terrorism, White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
"The United States welcomes the North Korean declaration of its nuclear programs," she said.
"North Korea has pledged to disable all its nuclear facilities and tomorrow will destroy the cooling tower of the Yongbyon reactor," she said. It is turning over information "essential to verifying that North Korea is ending all of its nuclear programs and activities."
Bush plans to make a statement on North Korea in the Rose Garden at 7:40 a.m. EDT (1140 GMT) Thursday.
"There is still more work to be done in order for North Korea to end its isolation," Perino said. "It must dismantle all of its nuclear facilities, give up its separated plutonium, and resolve outstanding questions on its highly enriched uranium and proliferation activities. It must end these activities in a fully verifiable way. "
The action, one step along the road to getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, comes after the United States and four other nations softened their demands on what North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had to declare, and waited an additional six months to see it.
Those seeking a tougher stance on the hardline regime, which has lied about its nuclear past before, are expected to view the latest declaration as part of a high-stakes diplomatic game. Others will label it a victory for the Bush administration, saying the declaration is a good step forward in getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
Besides providing information about its nuclear facilities, North Korea's declaration is to provide a verifiable figure on how much plutonium they have. That still won't answer the question of how many bombs North Korea has stockpiled, but plutonium is the "heart of the game because that is the stuff they make bombs out of," says Christopher Hill, the lead U.S. negotiator in the talks under way between Pyongyang and the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.