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Negotiations with N. Korea collapse

N-confrontation passes to Obama administration

SHARE Negotiations with N. Korea collapse

WASHINGTON — A final push by President George W. Bush to complete an agreement to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons program collapsed Thursday, leaving the confrontation with one of the world's most isolated and intractable nations to the administration of Barack Obama.

Four days of negotiations in Beijing ended in an impasse after North Korea refused to agree to a system of verifying that it had ended all nuclear activity, which it had pledged to do. Among other things, the North Koreans have objected to allowing soil and air samples to be taken near nuclear facilities and sent overseas for testing.

North Korea could still return to the bargaining table, as it had after previous rifts. Officials, however, indicated that talks were unlikely to resume before Bush leaves office, depriving him of the chance for the breakthrough that the White House had hoped to reach with the North Koreans in the sunset of his presidency.

"What's unfortunate is that the North Koreans had an opportunity here," the White House press secretary, Dana M. Perino, said Thursday. "There was an open door, and all they had to do was walk through it."

The collapse of talks is reminiscent of a similar breakdown at the end of 2000, when President Bill Clinton gave up on a plan to travel to North Korea in the waning days of his presidency as it became clear that a deal over eliminating North Korea's medium- and long-range missiles was out of reach.

During Bush's presidency, North Korea has tested its first nuclear weapon and has accumulated enough nuclear fuel to build eight more weapons, according to U.S. estimates. The deal in which North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons program was first struck in February 2007, but it has been fragile from the outset. Only two months ago, the administration officially removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism in a bid to salvage the deal.

Michael J. Green, a former National Security Council adviser under Bush who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the administration had erred in removing North Korea from the list without extracting a more concrete step on verification.

"The United States expended it carrots, including delisting North Korea from the terrorist list in exchange for a verbal promise that Pyongyang would sign on to these verifications," he said. "We now know the North Koreans tricked us."