U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with North Korea's foreign minister for the first time as talks about that country's denuclearization opened.  As Ron Corben reports from VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau, the talks in Singapore are taking place on the sidelines of a regional Asian forum.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice greeted her North Korean counterpart Pak Ui Chun in Singapore, as foreign ministers from six nations met to discuss North Korea's denuclearization.

Rice told reporters after the talks that it was "a good meeting, no surprises."  

The United States had earlier presented North Korea with a draft document setting out key areas in which Washington is seeking verification of Pyongyang's past atomic programs.

Chinese officials called the inaugural, but informal meeting, of the six-party talks' of the foreign ministers as "quite significant", as well as presenting new opportunities with the talks described as being at "a critical point".

In addition to the United States and North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan are involved in the six-party talks.  The latest round of negotiations is taking place during the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministerial and partner states meeting that began Monday.   

This week Pyongyang signed onto a treaty of amity and cooperation with ASEAN, marking a major step in the Southeast Asian regional group that is hoping to take a wider role in regional security.

Defense and security analyst Carl Thayer, from the Australian National University, says the moves highlight North Korea edging forward onto the international stage.

"ASEAN will see that as a tremendous plus, justifying and underscoring wanting to be in the driving seat for East Asian Security," he said.  "It signals North Korea is inching forward and ASEAN has always been concerned that the six-party talks are cutting them out.  So they will make an awful lot about North Korea's accession, and of course that will point the finger towards major countries like the United States that have not."

Foreign ministers from the 10 member ASEAN group are to be joined Thursday with counterparts from 16 other countries, as well as the European Union, the United States, and Russia.

The meeting, known as the ASEAN regional forum, is expected to again press for improved guidelines for joint disaster relief in the region.  The increased focus comes after a cyclone in Burma and a earthquake in May left more than 200,000 killed or missing.

A key theme of discussion, say officials, will be calls for a joint civilian-military disaster relief exercise as well as other measures.

The renewed efforts on greater coordination of disaster relief follow poor implantation of guidelines that had been set down after the 2004 Asian tsunami.  It also follows widespread criticism of Burma over delays by the military government in allowing international aid to reach areas initially hard hit by the cyclone.

In documents released this week, regional foreign ministers also raised concerns over food security and as well concerns over inflation brought on by higher world fuel prices.