The Washington Times - October 11, 2008, 04:38PM

North Korean officials were so emboldened by the Bush administration’s perceived desperation to make last year’s nuclear deal work before its term ends in January that they demanded to “inspect” U.S. nuclear facilities.

The demand came during a visit to Pyongyang by chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill in early October, administration officials said. The North Koreans wanted access to U.S. sites as a “reciprocal” measure, following Washington’s insistence on inspections of North Korean facilities.

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Those inspections would be part of the agreement reached in six-nation talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear programs. They would help verify a declaration Pyongyang submitted in June, in an attempt to account for its nuclear history.

U.S. officials said the North’s demand was so absurd that it was shot down immediately. But it indicated Pyongyang’s strong negotiating position in its quest to win removal from the State Department’s blacklist of state-sponsors of terrorism.

President Bush notified Congress of his intention to take North Korea off the list after it submitted the declaration. The administration failed to do so after the required 45-day period expired, saying that a “verification protocol” had to come first.

The North Koreans, however, insisted that Mr. Hill had promised them removal from the list after the declaration’s submission -– not the protocol’s. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent Mr. Hill back to Pyongyang to break the impasse.

Trying to find a compromise and move forward with the deal, the two sides agreed that the “delisting” will take place immediately, but the verification protocol will be “finalized and adopted by the six parties in the near future.”

In the meantime, they agreed on “understandings” that “will serve as the baseline” for the protocol, the State Department said.

Ms. Rice removed North Korea from the terrorist list on Saturday.

— Nicholas Kralev, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Times