"Everyone essentially confirmed [previous agreements] and the need to move rapidly to finish phase two obligations," she said.

Strong message

The meeting examined methods to verify North Korea's nuclear programme, Rice said.

"The spirit was good because people believed we have made progress. There is also a sense of urgency about moving on and a sense that we cannot afford to have another hiatus of several months."

Before the meeting, Rice said she would deliver "a very strong message" that the denuclearisation process "really needs to be completed, and that it has to be a verification protocol that can give us confidence".

Rice expects Pak to provide an initial response to a US proposal on how Pyongyang can prove it has told the truth about its past atomic programmes.

The four-page draft document presented to North Korea earlier this month calls for intrusive inspections of Pyongyang's nuclear facilities, soil sampling, interviews with key scientists and a role for UN atomic experts.

Verification process

Christopher Hill, the chief US negotiator, said late on Tuesday that he believed the meeting would "give some indication of the amount of effort the North Koreans have put into completing this verification protocol".

"We [need] a way to address proliferation as well as all nuclear programmes, including highly enriched uranium"

Condoleezza Rice, 
US secretary of state

He said the goal was to reach a formal agreement on the document by mid-August after negotiations on the fine points, some of which the North Koreans have already objected to.

"They made some preliminary comments and indicated some problems with it," he said. "But we have to see what their considered comments back from the capital are."

Ri Tong-il, a North Korean spokesman, said his delegation "will state our position and give a speech in the six-party foreign ministers' talks".

If Pyongyang agrees to the proposal, it would lead to the start of a key process of checking if the North turned in a correct account of its nuclear activity and facilities last month in a step towards their dismantlement and eventual abandonment.

Verification is expected to take months to finish and the Bush administration is eager to make quick progress in its last six months in
office.

Proliferation and uranium

The meeting comes amid positive developments in the six-nation effort to get the North to denuclearise, with North Korea submitting a long-delayed list of its nuclear programmes involving plutonium last month and blowing up the cooling tower at its main nuclear reactor.

But its report did not include details about nuclear weapons, an alleged uranium enrichment program and possible nuclear proliferation with country's such as Syria.

The US announced it would remove the North from its "terrorism" blacklist and relaxed some economic sanctions after Pyongyang handed over its report but Rice made clear that concerns uranium and proliferation still have to be addressed if progress is to continue.

"We [need] a way to address proliferation as well as all nuclear programmes, including highly enriched uranium," she said.

But Rice has downplayed expectations of a breakthrough at the meeting, saying it would not be historic or monumental.

The foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan, China and Russia will also be present for the discussions.