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The latest round of the six-party talks on the denuclearization of North Korea ended Thursday, after the parties failed to agree on a protocol spelling out ways to verify an inventory of North Korea’s nuclear programs. The North’s refusal to put verification commitments into writing caused the failure.

Under the denuclearization-for-aid deal reached last year, North Korea is disabling nuclear facilities at the Yongbyon complex in exchange for energy aid equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy oil. The parties to the talks should step up efforts to reach agreement on the verification protocol as soon as possible and to ensure the completion of the disablement process.

North Korea has already agreed to let outside inspectors visit its nuclear facilities, check documents and interview North Korean engineers. In the latest meeting, China, the chair of the talks, prepared a draft agreement. But North Korea was adamant in refusing to let outside inspectors take nuclear samples from the nuclear complex at Yongbyon and to put that procedure into writing.

Examination of nuclear samples is crucial in finding out such things as how North Korea’s reactor to produce plutonium was operated and how much plutonium North Korea obtained through the operation.

Although the meeting failed to reach agreement on the verification protocol, the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia joined hands in trying to get North Korea to agree to let outside inspectors take nuclear samples. The five nations must stay unified in this effort. They also need to fix the schedule for delivery of the promised aid to North Korea to help prompt the nuclear-disablement process.

Japan has refused to provide energy aid equivalent to 200,000 tons of heavy oil, citing the lack of progress in resolving the issue of the North’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the past. This approach, though, puts Japan in a difficult position, as it increases the risk of wrecking unity among the five nations seeking progress in North Korea’s denuclearization.

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