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Rice heads to Middle East, Asia

world Updated: Jul 21, 2008 08:39 IST

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left Washington for travel to the Middle East and Asia, as she prepared to meet her North Korean counterpart for the first time on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Rice is expected to meet North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun in an informal meeting of the top diplomats of the six countries negotiating Pyongyang's denuclearization programme.

She has no plans for a bilateral meeting with Pak, but will see him in the meeting with her counterparts from South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, the other four states involved in the six-party talks, officials have said.

In Abu Dhabi on Monday, Rice and Gulf Arab allies were to get a first-person account from her number-three envoy about his unprecedented but apparently fruitless participation in talks Saturday with the Iranians in Geneva.

With far more to show for her diplomacy on North Korea, Rice is due on Wednesday and Thursday to visit Singapore and meet her North Korean counterpart at what could be the informal launch of the last stage of its denuclearization.

Iran gave no sign it would comply with international calls to halt uranium enrichment, even though Undersecretary of State William Burns went to Geneva in a shift from past US policy of rejecting meetings with Iran until it yields.

Washington said it sent Burns to Geneva to show Washington is "serious" about backing diplomatic efforts to end a long standoff that has raised fears of Israeli or even US military strikes against Iran.