North Korea threatened to slow down disablement of its main nuclear facility yesterday after Washington said energy aid to the reclusive state had been suspended because of failed talks on verifying the North’s operations.
US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said all five countries negotiating with North Korea — Japan, Russia, China, the US and South Korea — had agreed that fuel shipments would not go forward until there was progress on a so-called verification protocol with Pyongyang.
“This is an action-for-action process,” McCormack told reporters in Washington. “Future fuel shipments aren’t going to move forward absent a verification regime ... they [the North Koreans] understand that.”
North Korean nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan was quoted by Kyodo news agency as telling reporters in Beijing that Pyongyang would “probably adjust the pace of disablement at nuclear facilities if [the aid] is suspended.”
The US negotiator with North Korea, Christopher Hill, returned to Washington after the failed Beijing talks and briefed US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday, said McCormack, adding that Hill would continue trying to get a deal.
“There’s the opportunity for North Korea to sign on to this verification protocol,” he said. “That still exists. We’ll see. The ball is in their court.”
Under an agreement last year, up to 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel aid was promised to North Korea as a reward for progress on denuclearization. Countries outside the five-nation group also have volunteered to supply North Korea with energy as a reward.
By the middle of last month, North Korea had received about half of the amount promised, the State Department said.
An unspecified amount of fuel was delivered this month by Russia and will finish being offloaded in North Korea next week, State Department spokesman Robert McInturff told reporters.
But McCormack said Russia made it clear in this week’s talks in Beijing that any future shipments would not be made until North Korea agreed to the verification protocol.
On the sidelines of talks with China and Japan and Beijing yesterday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said he expected nuclear talks to restart after US president-elect Barack Obama takes office.
“Once the United States has the Obama administration, full-fledged discussions are expected,” Lee told reporters. “The North Korean nuclear issue turned out to be 10 years of disappointment, but it is also true that we have progressed little by little.”