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US Cites Difficulties at Korea Nuclear Talks

The State Department said a critical round of talks in Beijing on ending North Korea's nuclear program is not trending in the right direction. U.S. officials said Pyongyang risks losing promised benefits if talks on verifying its nuclear activities remain stalled.

Officials at the State Department are echoing the dreary assessment of chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill on the Beijing talks, and reminding Pyongyang that it cannot have a promised political and economic opening with the rest of the world if the process breaks down.

Heads-of-delegations of the six parties in the Chinese sponsored disarmament talks met for a third day in Beijing to discuss a verification protocol for the nuclear declaration North Korea made in June, but Assistant Secretary of State Hill said no progress was made.

A verification agreement is necessary if implementation of the agreement - under which North Korea is to scrap its nuclear program in return for aid and diplomatic benefits - is to go forward.

The main sticking point is whether inspectors will be allowed to take samples from North Korean nuclear sites to prove that Pyongyang is actually disabling its nuclear facilities.

The United States said North Korea agreed to sampling, at least in verbal commitments to U.S. negotiators, and that sampling must be part of the protocol. Pyongyang denied it agreed to sampling, which it contends would violate its sovereignty.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack laid blame squarely on North Korea for the impasse at Beijing.

"They have a unique way of doing business. And we are not going to play into their way of doing business. We know what was agreed upon. We have it on paper. We have a solid understanding of it. Other countries within the six-party talks share that understanding. And we will see if North Korea will now take that final step. And if they do not, then potentially you go down another path way," he said.

North Korea has partially disabled nuclear facilities in return for energy aid in the initial part of the six-party accord. A verification plan would clear the way for the final phase of the accord in which Pyongyang would dismantle its nuclear assets and get broader diplomatic recognition, security guarantees and trade benefits.

Spokesman McCormack said the verification stalemate suggests that Pyongyang, though it has taken some disarmament steps, has not yet made what he termed the strategic decision to de-nuclearize.

He said U.S. envoy Hill is scheduled to leave Beijing on Thursday, though he could extend his stay if there are productive discussions.

In addition to the United States, North Korea and host China, the talks also include South Korea, Russia and Japan.