WASHINGTON The Bush administration announced on Saturday it was removing North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, in a bid to salvage a fragile nuclear deal that seemed on the verge of collapse.
Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said the United States made the decision after North Korea agreed to resume disabling a plutonium plant and to allow some inspections to verify that it had halted its nuclear program as promised months earlier.
The deal, which the Bush administration had portrayed as a major foreign policy achievement, was slipping away in recent weeks in a dispute over the verification program.
But Bush is already having trouble selling the new agreement to his own party. Republican lawmakers, including the presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, quickly expressed concern, complaining that North Korea had yet to demonstrate that it was serious about adhering to its commitment to de-nuclearize.
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, called the deal a modest step forward, in dismantling North Korea s nuclear weapons program.
Other Democrats said they welcomed the agreement but noted it did not go much beyond an agreement President Clinton reached with North Korea in 1994, which the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, criticized as inadequate.
Bush administration officials, trying to head off potential criticism they were simply seeking a foreign policy victory in their last months in office, said the agreement was the best the United States could get at this time.
In the most significant part of the accord, North Korea agreed to a verification plan that would allow U.S. inspectors access to its main declared nuclear compound, at Yongbyon.
But the deal puts off decisions on the thorniest verification issue: What would happen if international experts suspected the North was hiding other nuclear weapons facilities, particularly those related to its uranium enrichment program?