US officials: N. Korea may announce abandonment of nuclear weapons soon

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to travel to Asia next week amid signs of a possible imminent breakthrough in efforts to get North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons and bring a final end to the Korean War. After months of delay, the Stalinist North appears ready to hand over an accounting of its atomic activities by the end of the month, fulfilling a crucial step in the de-nuclearization process that will trigger an announcement by the Bush administration that it intends to lift sanctions against Pyongyang, US officials said Friday. Once that announcement is made, North Korea is expected to blow up the cooling tower at its Yongbyon reactor complex in what would be a dramatic, if only symbolic, televised signal of its intent to abandon nuclear arms, the officials said. All of these developments could happen within the next 10 days while Rice is in or en route to Japan, South Korea and China, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive diplomatic discussions.