U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves on her first diplomatic mission to Asia Monday, where she will focus on persuading North Korea to return to six-party disarmament talks.

Ms. Rice will travel to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Japan, South Korea and China before returning to Washington on March 21. Discussions with her Asian counterparts are also expected to cover Indian-Pakistani relations, Afghan reconstruction and the escalating tensions between mainland China and Taiwan.

North Korea's nuclear weapons program will be the focus of her meetings in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing. Pyongyang last month claimed to possess nuclear weapons.

Ms. Rice has already traveled to Europe, the Middle East and Mexico since being confirmed as secretary of state in January.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.