TOKYO -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Japan that Washington would not remove North Korea from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism on the initial deadline of August 11, Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura has said.
The White House had made clear that it did not expect a deal with Pyongyang by August 11 for presenting a verification plan for its nuclear programs, but it had said talks would continue.
The delay was likely to be welcome in Japan, where many are concerned that an easing of U.S. sanctions against Pyongyang would lessen Tokyo's chances of settling a feud over its citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago.
Japanese and North Korean officials have begun two days of talks in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang on the abductions, an emotive issue in Japan and a major obstacle to establishing diplomatic ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
Komura told reporters that Rice had informed him of the delay in the delisting in a telephone conversation.
Washington has promised North Korea it could be removed from a U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring states as early as Aug. 11 if a robust verification plan was in place, but U.S. officials have asserted this was a "minimum timeline" rather than a fixed date.
Removal from the terrorism blacklist would see an end to U.S. sanctions that have mostly cut off North Korea from international banking and would also clear the way for multilateral aid packages.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Seoul had not been notified about delisting.
"So once all qualifications are met and a thorough verification done, then the U.S. can at any time delist North Korea," spokesman Moon Tae-young said.
"We hope North Korea will actively cooperate on a thorough verification so that it could be removed from the list."
In late June, North Korea presented a long-delayed accounting of its nuclear weapons program, kicking off the 45-day process to remove Pyongyang from the terrorism blacklist.
The news sparked outrage from relatives of those Japanese snatched away in the 1970s and 1980s and from some politicians, who fear a lessening of U.S. pressure on Pyongyang will lessen chances of resolving the dispute over the abductees.
Japan said in early June that it would lift some of its own sanctions, imposed on North Korea in 2006 after Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test and test-launched ballistic missiles, because Pyongyang had agreed to reopen a probe into the fate of the abductees. But Tokyo later said lifting the sanctions hinged on an agreement on how the reinvestigation would be conducted.
Tokyo also insists it will not provide energy as part of a multilateral deal aimed at ending the secretive communist state's nuclear programs unless the abduction issue is settled.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents had abducted 13 Japanese. Five were repatriated that year, but Japan wants more information about eight who the North insists are dead and another four whom Japan says were also kidnapped.