Six-party meeting on North Korea set to start in Singapore
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and five other foreign ministers were set to meet in Singapore for the first time on Wednesday in an unofficial gathering focusing on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, the dpa reported.
The talks are focused on setting up a mechanism to verify North Korea's nuclear declaration turned over last month.
Officials, including Rice who will be meeting North Korea's foreign minister for the first time, have played down any chance of a breakthrough.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said he hoped the meeting would be very good "for advancing the agenda" and pushing forward progress in the six-party talks.
Rice, who arrived Tuesday from Abu Dhabi, said earlier that North Korea would receive a "very strong message."
She was holding bilateral meetings with her counterparts from China, Russia, South Korea and Japan before convening with North Korea for the six-party talks later Wednesday.
North Korea also said it would finish disabling its plutonium reactor by October.
"The ball is actually in the North Korean court," Kim Sook, South Korean's main nuclear envoy, said on Tuesday.
The talks come amid positive developments in the long-running effort to get North Korea to denuclearize.
US President George W Bush has relaxed some of the US economic sanctions on North Korea, despite including the country in an "axis of evil" alongside Iran and Iraq in 2002 for pursuing weapons of mass destruction. The White House on Monday said it had not backed down from including North Korea and Iran in the group.