Rice Headed to Asia

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North Korean nuclear ambitions will be a central topic when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) meets Asian leaders next week.

Rice will travel to China, Japan and South Korea and will also visit India, Pakistan and Afghanistan before returning to Washington. The State Department did not give a detailed schedule, nor say which leaders Rice will see in each country.

China (search) is anchoring the stalled six-way effort to deter North Korea from building a nuclear weapon. North Korea has refused to return to the talks for now.

Rice "will review with our partners our diplomatic efforts to convene the next round of six-party talks," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday.

The trip will also highlight reconstruction and democratic progress in Afghanistan and what Boucher described as the United States' "long-term engagement with Pakistan."

The Bush administration considers Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf (search) one of its most important allies in the fight against terrorism and admires his leadership in guiding his country away from Islamic fundamentalism. Musharraf has resisted international pressure to step down as the country's Army chief, however.

The United States wants Musharraf to quit the Army and move his country further toward democracy, but has put little public pressure on him recently.