WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States accused North Korea Tuesday of violating a six-nation nuclear accord and retained it on a terror blacklist, after the hardline communist state defiantly suspended disabling its atomic plants.
Washington said North Korea would stay on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list until it agreed to a protocol that could verify a nuclear program declared by Pyongyang in June ahead of dismantlement of its atomic arsenal.
"The United States will not take North Korea off the state sponsor of terrorism list until we have a protocol in place to verify the dismantling and accounting for Korea's nuclear program," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
The State Department said Pyongyang's decision to stop disabling its key Yongbyon nuclear complex was of "great concern" and "a step backward" in six-country diplomatic efforts aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
"It certainly is in violation of its commitments to the six-party framework, certainly in violation of the principle of action-for-action," department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.
Pyongyang said Tuesday that it had stopped disabling its nuclear plants at the Yongbyon complex as of August 14 and, instead, wanted to resurrect them because the United States had failed to remove it from the terrorism blacklist.
The North Koreans claim they should be removed from the blacklist first as part of an action-for-action plan under the accord among China, the United States, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.
"None of the six-party talks joint statements, however, commits the US to any deadline for removing North Korea from the list," said Bruce Klingner, a North Korean expert at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Washington would consult with the other parties "to see how things play out in the coming weeks," Wood said.
The fate of a group of experts from the US State and Energy Departments involved in the disablement of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities is unclear, although they are still at the location.
"I can confirm that US personnel remain on the ground at the Yongbyon facility monitoring the sites," State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside said in a statement.
North Korea, which tested an atomic bomb on October 2006, has been negotiating over the last five years under the six party framework on disbanding its atomic program in return for energy aid and diplomatic and security guarantees.
It has already shut down the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and has disabled about 80 percent of the main nuclear complex.
With a Middle East peace settlement virtually out of sight and diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran not bearing fruit, the administration of US President George W. Bush has been banking on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as a rare foreign policy victory before Bush leaves office in January.
The North Koreans had hoped that by threatening to reverse the nuclear disablement process, Washington would take them off the blacklist, said Robert Einhorn, a former top non-proliferation expert at the State Department.
"At this stage, if the North Koreans are not prepared to make specific commitments on verification, I think the process will bog down, probably for the remainder of the Bush administration," Einhorn said.
"I don't think the Bush administration will cave in on this," he said.
However, he added, the North Koreans were also unlikely to resurrect the Yongbyon reactor.
Pyongyang itself had wanted to shut down the reactor because it was at the end of its lifespan, he said.
Japan and South Korea expressed regret over Pyongyang's move, while China, North Korea's closest ally, made a general statement calling on parties to honor their commitments.
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