- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2008

SEOUL | Top diplomats from the U.S. and North Korea will meet next week along with their counterparts from regional nuclear talks, U.S. and South Korean officials said Friday, the highest level of contact between the countries amid recent progress on Pyongyang’s disarmament.

The talks, which will include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun, will take place on the sidelines of an Asian security meeting in Singapore that all the countries’ foreign ministers had already planned to attend, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

“On the sidelines of that meeting, I would expect that there will be an informal ministerial-level meeting of the six-party ministers,” Mr. McCormack said, though he added the contacts would not yield “specific outcomes.”

A South Korean official had earlier also said the diplomats would meet at the summit. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the organizer of the nuclear talks, China, had not yet made a formal announcement about the meeting.

The talks would be the first time the countries’ top diplomats have met since the six-nation arms negotiations began in 2003. Along with the U.S. and North Korea, the arms talks include China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. Mr. McCormack added that it would be the first time Miss Rice would meet with a North Korean foreign minister.

The meeting comes as North Korea has promised to wrap up the disabling of its main nuclear facility by later this year, meaning it would not be able to easily resume making plutonium for bombs.

However, the sides have not yet agreed on details for the more critical next step - dismantling the North’s facilities and ridding the country of nuclear bombs and radioactive material to make them.

The foreign ministers’ meeting was agreed to in earlier accords from the talks, but was delayed as the talks hit a deadlock over the North’s pledge to submit a declaration of its nuclear programs.

The North delivered a limited declaration last month, omitting details about its purported uranium enrichment program and possible nuclear proliferation.

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