The United States said Friday that there would be no more fuel aid shipments to energy-strapped North Korea until Pyongyang agrees to a written plan to verify its nuclear disarmament.

The United States had warned that it would “rethink” its approach to North Korean nuclear disarmament after the latest round of six-country negotiations collapsed in Beijing on Thursday.

“The North Koreans have not come through and signed on to the verification protocol, which all other parties have agreed to,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

“Future fuel shipments will not go forward absent a verification regime,” McCormack told reporters after what he called an “understanding” among the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

McCormack said one fuel shipment from Russia to North Korea was apparently already en route, but would be the last if Pyongyang did not accept nuclear disarmament verification procedures agreed earlier in the six-party talks.

“I think it’s very difficult to turn off,” he told the daily news briefing.

The six parties struck a landmark deal in February 2007 that promised diplomatic and economic incentives — including energy aid — to North Korea in return for giving up the nuclear programs it spent decades developing.

McCormack said the impasse has also put in limbo discussions to find an alternative supplier to Japan to ship fuel to North Korea as Tokyo insists that Pyongyang first clear up the cases of Japanese abducted during the Cold War.

“There were efforts to perhaps solicit donations of fuel oil from other parties not involved in the six-party talks … And I don’t see those going forward without agreement on a verification protocol,” he added.

The failure of the talks in Beijing all but dashed the hopes of US President George W. Bush’s administration to make progress on North Korean disarmament before Barack Obama moves into the White House.

The Bush administration had made solving the North Korean nuclear impasse a key foreign policy priority.

McCormack said that US negotiator Christopher Hill had returned from Beijing to give Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “a more full briefing” about his discussions with the other parties.

Hill, the assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, will continue consultations with his counterparts from South Korea, Japan, Russia and China who have all returned to their capitals, he added.

McCormack did not rule out the risk that North Korea would resume steps it took months ago to restart its nuclear plants as it pressed demands to be taken off a US terrorism blacklist.

“Throughout (the negotiations) there have been stops and starts and various kinds of fits,” McCormack said when asked about such a risk.

The negotiations that began in 2003 have been mired in countless setbacks, and did not prevent Pyongyang from testing its first atomic bomb in 2006.

And although the North made its declaration of its atomic activities in June, the next step in the process was working out a way to determine if it had been telling the truth.

In October, the United States struck North Korea from a blacklist of countries supporting terrorism after saying Pyongyang agreed to steps to verify its nuclear disarmament and pledged to resume disabling its atomic plants.

But the five other parties were unable in Beijing this week to get North Korea to commit all of those steps to paper.

McCormack said “this is an absolute matter of principle” for North Korea to sign up to a verification protocol because it is an “action-for-action negotiation.”

He added: “The ball is in the North Koreans’ court.” AFP