President George W. Bush yesterday lifted trade sanctions against North Korea and moved to remove it from the United States terrorism blacklist, a remarkable turnaround in policy towards the communist regime he once branded as part of an "axis of evil."
The announcement at the White House came after North Korea handed over a long-awaited accounting of its nuclear work to Chinese officials yesterday, fulfilling a key step in the denuclearisation process.
Bush called the declaration a positive step along a long road to get the nation to give up its nuclear weapons. Yet, he remained wary of the regime, which has lied about its nuclear work before. And North Korea's declaration, received six months late, falls short of what the administration once sought, leaving it open to criticism from those who want the US to take an even tougher stance against the regime.
Conservatives Block removal
"We will trust you only to the extent you fulfil your promises," Bush said in the Rose Garden. "I'm pleased with the progress. I'm under no illusions. This is the first step. This isn't the end of the process. It is the beginning of the process."
Conservative Republicans, once Bush's closest allies in efforts to confront North Korea's nuclear aspirations, came out strongly against his decision to remove the regime from the terrorist list. But with only 45 days until the change takes effect, there appears to be little that frustrated lawmakers can do.
To block the North's removal, opponents would have to push legislation through a Congress controlled by Democrats who have largely favoured the administration's efforts at engaging the North.