The United States says shipments of fuel oil to North Korea are being
stopped because of Pyongyang's refusal to accept a plan for verifying
its nuclear program. The action comes a day after the breakdown of
talks in Beijing on a verification protocol.
State Department officials
say the five powers negotiating with North Korea on ending its nuclear
program have agreed to halt deliveries of heavy fuel oil to that
country unless it accepts a plan to verify its disarmament steps.
United States, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea have been engaged
in the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks with North Korea, which has
agreed in principle to scrap its nuclear program, including weapons, in
return for aid and diplomatic benefits.
All the participants
except Japan have been providing North Korea with industrial-grade fuel
oil in return for North Korea's pledge to disable the country's
Yongbyon nuclear reactor complex.
At a news briefing, State
Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said in the wake of the failed
Beijing talks, the other powers reached an understanding to halt fuel
shipments in the absence of a verification deal.
"This is an
absolute matter of principle," he said. "And we have been very clear on
that, that is an action-for-action negotiation. The sine qua non
[absolute condition] for progress is a verification protocol. The ball
is in the North Koreans' court."
The Beijing meetings foundered
over North Korea's refusal to accept a Chinese draft verification plan
that called for nuclear inspectors to be able to remove samples from
North Korean nuclear sites for outside analysis.
States said Pyongyang verbally accepted sampling in talks with U.S.
officials in October. North Korea later denied making such a commitment
and said sampling would violate its sovereignty.
The other five
parties to the talks say the verification protocol is essential to
confirm the accuracy of the declaration of its nuclear activities and
holdings that North Korea made last June.
A verification plan
would clear the way for the concluding phase of the disarmament deal
under which Pyongyang would scrap its nuclear program entirely and get
broader diplomatic recognition and security guarantees.
McCormack said the chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks
Christopher Hill briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Friday on
the failed Beijing round.
He stressed there is still an
opportunity for North Korea to sign on to the verification plan and
keep the process, including oil shipments, going.
was promised one million tons of heavy fuel oil for shutting down and
disabling the Yongbyon complex. More than half the fuel has already