July 18, 2008 / 4:46 AM / 12 years ago

Six-party ministers to meet next week on N. Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) - Foreign ministers of the six countries in talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear arms program are expected to hold their first meeting next week at a regional forum in Singapore, a diplomatic source in Seoul said on Friday.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smiles as she arrives at Tbilisi airport July 9, 2008. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

The unprecedented meeting would come as North Korea has released a long-delayed accounting of its murky nuclear plans and the United States has responded by moving to take the communist country off of a State Department terrorism blacklist.

“It is likely that the foreign ministers of the six-party talks (that include the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States) will meet in Singapore,” the source told Reuters.

The meeting, tentatively planned for next Wednesday, would likely be an informal gathering that would not result in an agreement, the source said.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on Friday he wanted his communist neighbor to abandon its atomic ambitions.

“North Korea’s strategy is reaffirming itself as a nuclear state while we’re trying to get it to abandon its nuclear program,” Lee, who took office in February, said at the first National Security Council meeting of his presidency.

The meeting next week of the ASEAN Regional Forum is the only annual event that brings together the foreign ministers of the six countries and draws the rare regular presence of the top diplomat from the reclusive communist North.

South Korea is hoping to use the forum to press Pyongyang to respond to its questions about the shooting death of one of its tourists vacationing at a resort in the North by a North Korean soldier, a presidential Blue House official said.

At talks among six-country nuclear envoys held in Beijing earlier this month, the five powers pressed Pyongyang to accept a mechanism to verify the claims it made about its weapons-grade plutonium stockpile.

International envoys did not reach final agreement on a detailed guideline of how to verify the North’s account of its nuclear activities made last month. But they mandated a working group to draw up the details.

North Korea was holding out against allowing inspectors to bring in equipment or any kind of sampling as part of their job, a Japanese official said.

The chief U.S. nuclear envoy, Christopher Hill, said what the United States was seeking was nothing unusual, amounting to a standard set of activities done routinely to make similar checks. (Additional reporting by Kim Junghyun; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Alex Richardson)

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