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 for the first time Wednesday in an unofficial gathering in Singapore focusing on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, reported dpa.
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 good "for advancing the agenda" and pushing forward progress in the six-party talks.
Rice praised the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for addressing a military standoff between Thailand and Cambodia, and urging Myanmar to move toward democracy following the devastating Cyclone Nargis.
"It is a good thing to have an organization like ASEAN under the circumstances," Rice told Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo. "I think it has become really a place where people can rally and try to solve problems. I think you are doing a good job."
Singapore holds the ASEAN chairmanship.
Rice 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 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.