Speaking to a Heritage Foundation audience, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice provided greater clarity on the US approach to nuclear negotiations with North Korea. She affirmed that the US would demand extensive verification of the data declaration, including access to nuclear facilities, and documents – a priority I have repeatedly and forcefully emphasized over the course of the talks.

The U.S. should continue nuclear negotiations with North Korea. But it must insist on complete transparency of North Korea’s uranium-based nuclear weapons program and proliferation activities as well as vigorous verification requirements. Among other things, an extensive verification protocol should include a sufficient quota of short-notice, “challenge” inspections of suspect sites.

The Secretary’s remarks left unclear whether North Korea’s uranium-based nuclear weapons program and proliferation activities would be included in the required “complete and correct” declaration. Also unclear was whether Pyongyong would allow verification access to facilities other than the Yongbyon nuclear complex. Recent North Korean statements to a visiting former US official suggest Pyongyang will reject an extensive verification regime similar to those in previous US arms control treaties.

Realistically acknowledging that there is the “very real possibility” that North Korea may not give up its nuclear weapons, Secretary Rice advocated that the Six Party Talks provide the best means to test Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize. Ms. Rice pledged that North Korean noncompliance with its denuclearization pledge would trigger US withholding of benefits or imposition of disincentives.

On another of the most sensitive issues at stake in the talks, Secretary Rice signaled that North Korea’s provision of its long overdue data declaration will lead the US to remove Pyongyang from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Such a move risks alienating Japan unless North Korea allows tangible progress in resolving its earlier kidnappings of Japanese citizens.