Rice to Meet N. Korean Diplomat

The meeting between the secretary of state and her North Korean counterpart is not expected to resolve the nuclear issue, but it is a first.
The meeting between the secretary of state and her North Korean counterpart is not expected to resolve the nuclear issue, but it is a first. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 19, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet next week with her North Korean counterpart and the foreign ministers of four other countries involved in the effort to end Pyongyang's nuclear programs, the State Department said yesterday.

The session, which will take place on the sidelines of a Southeast Asia security conference in Singapore, will mark Rice's first meeting with the North Korean official, Pak Ui Chun, and follows on an extraordinary thawing in the tensions between the two countries. North Korea last month demolished the cooling tower attached to its Yongbyon nuclear facility after President Bush notified Congress that he intended to remove the country from the list of sponsors of terrorism.

The North Korean talks have entered a delicate stage. While North Korea has declared how much plutonium it possesses, and has broadly agreed to cooperate in the verification of its claims, the technical details of that process remain under discussion. North Korea also has not disclosed how many weapons it has, nor has it provided details on other possible programs or its participation in the building of a Syrian reactor destroyed by Israel last year.

The meeting is billed as an "informal" gathering of the foreign ministers from the countries participating in the six-party talks, which also include China, South Korea, Russia and Japan. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it is not expected to yield any breakthroughs.

"This is not going to be a meeting that produces specific outcomes," McCormack told reporters. "It's really a meeting to review where the six-party process is at the moment."

Still, the foreign ministers of the countries involved in the effort have never before met as a group, signifying a new level of engagement in an on-and-off process launched five years ago. Rice has frequently spoken of her desire to turn the six-nation negotiating process into a broader security forum for Northeast Asia if North Korea gives up its weapons.

The ministerial meeting also marks the Bush administration's further evolution in its dealings with countries that the president in 2002 said were part of an "axis of evil." The president this week approved sending the State Department's third-ranking official, Undersecretary William J. Burns, to an international meeting being held today in Geneva on Iran's nuclear program -- another first.

In Bush's first term, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in 2002 and 2004 met briefly with Pak's predecessor at the same Southeast Asia conference. Powell arranged the 2002 meeting without notifying the White House. He told his aides that he wanted to "accidentally" bump into his counterpart over coffee, and they passed word to the North Korean delegation.

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