Rice in Singapore for six-party talks

At a meeting in Singapore, Condoleezza Rice is meeting with foreign ministers for six-party talks. She is expected to press Pak Ui-Chun, her North Korean counterpart, for details about the country's disarmament schedule.


SINGAPORE, July 23 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice will push North Korea's foreign minister hard
in their first ever meeting on Wednesday to prove the North's
disarmament efforts are serious, U.S. officials said.

Rice is to join foreign ministers from China, Russia,
Japan, and the two Koreas at Wednesday's meeting -- the first
such encounter since "six party" talks began in 2003 and at a
time when Washington wants better ties with the North.

Rice will press Pak Ui-chun for details about a mechanism
being worked out to check claims Pyongyang made about its
weapons-grade plutonium stockpile in a long-delayed accounting
delivered last month.

"It will give some indication of the amount of effort the
North Koreans have put into the completing this verification
protocol," chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill told
reporters traveling with Rice.

Hill said a four-page draft of the so-called verification
protocol had been circulated and he hoped there could be
agreement on the issue by mid-August at the latest.

However, the verification procedure itself could take
months to implement, possibly stretching into the next U.S.
administration after Bush leaves office in January 2009.

Hill said the North Koreans had made some preliminary
comments on the verification protocol and "indicated some
problems with it." He did not elaborate.


North Korean delegation spokesman Ri Dong-il told
that North Korea's goal for Wednesday's meeting is to provide
the "momentum to complete the second phase measures as agreed
at the recent chief envoys' meeting in Beijing".

He said the disarmament talks had made significant
progress, and Washington had taken some steps to lift some of
its sanctions against Pyongyang. "What's important is for the
U.S. to fundamentally and entirely withdraw its hostile

The meeting, on the sidelines of annual talks among
Asia-Pacific nations, comes at a time when the Bush
administration is tweaking its policy towards North Korea.

President George W. Bush branded North Korea as part of an
"axis of evil" together with Iraq and Iran after the Sept. 11,
2001 attacks, but the North is slowly moving away from that
rogue status and Washington has slightly eased some sanctions.

Rice, who was also meeting separately with the Japanese,
Chinese, Russian and South Korean foreign ministers to discuss
Pyongyang, said she would deliver a "strong message" to the
North Korean minister.

But she was at pains to play down the significance of the
meeting, telling reporters she did not think they were
"historic, or monumental or even consequential" and formal
six-party ministerial would be held later in Beijing.

Hill also said he thought it was too early to say whether
Rice's first meeting with the North Koreans could mark a
"turning point" in relations.

But with the unpopular Iraq war and the Iranian nuclear
standoff unresolved, the Bush administration is hoping success
in nuclear talks with North Korea will ultimately be logged as
a foreign policy success when Bush leaves office.

After the North presented the account of its nuclear
weapons programme in June, a thaw of ties began with Bush
launching a 45-day process to remove Pyongyang from the list of
state sponsors of terrorism.

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