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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

USA sends Condoleezza Rice to Asia to sound out another possible nuke test

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to visit South Korea next week. The visit is taking place amid the tension caused with this week’s nuclear test in North Korea. During her Asian tour next week Ms. Rice will visit Japan and China.

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The South Korean official said discussions were under way between Washington and Seoul, but final details of the trip were not confirmed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the visit had not been announced officially by the U.S.

South Korean and U.S. officials were also arranging a trip by Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill - the chief U.S. envoy to the six-nation talks over the North's nuclear weapons program - next week to Seoul, he added.

It was not immediately clear if Hill would accompany Rice or travel separately.

U.S. officials could not immediately confirm Rice's travel plans. A Japanese Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity per ministry protocol, also said no visit had been announced or confirmed.

The move would reflect a high-level effort by regional powers to stave off negative consequences after the North's claim to have detonated its first-ever nuclear bomb underground Monday.

"In the coming days and weeks, I think there will be a flurry of intense diplomatic efforts to revive the six-party talks," Chun Young-woo, South Korea's chief envoy to the talks, told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.

"The next week will be the busiest week in terms of diplomatic efforts to revive diplomacy," Chun said. "I wouldn't exclude high-level visits here and there."

Russia's envoy to the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev, was in Pyongyang for consultations, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told AP, confirming the first known high-level visit to North Korea since the purported test.

Alexeyev would be in Seoul for meetings Sunday, another South Korean official said on condition of anonymity because the meeting had not yet been officially announced.

North Korea's claimed test has added new urgency to yearslong international efforts to convince the communist nation to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.

The nuclear talks - which also involve China, Japan and North Korea - have been stalled for nearly a year.

"We cannot let the current situation slip further," Chun said. "We have to reverse the whole negative dynamics that dominate the North Korean nuclear issue."

The talks last took place in November, when negotiators failed to make progress toward implementing a breakthrough September 2005 agreement in which the North pledged to give up its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees, the AP says.

Pyongyang has boycotted the talks, demanding a one-on-one meeting with Washington over a U.S. campaign to sever the North's access to the international financial system for its alleged illicit activities like money laundering and counterfeiting.

The U.S. has rejected direct talks with the North and has called on the North to return to the six-nation talks without precondition.