North Korea's U.N. Diplomats Meet With New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 20, 2009

In the latest in a string of conciliatory moves, the North Korean government sent a delegation to meet Wednesday with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who said the isolated country is "now prepared to have a dialogue with us" after months of aggressive nuclear testing that alarmed the international community.

The visit to the governor's mansion in Santa Fe came two weeks after North Korea's Stalinist government freed two detained American journalists in response to a dramatic mission by former president Bill Clinton. The North has also made gestures toward South Korea, including the release last week of an engineer it had held for four months.

A senior Obama administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said that "the likelihood for some form of re-engagement is somewhat greater" because of North Korea's recent actions. But U.S. officials emphasized that North Korea still has to agree to return to stalled multiparty talks on its nuclear weapons program.

"Our goals have not changed as it relates to North Korea, largely because the responsibilities of North Korea have not changed," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, referring to agreements that the North has signed pledging to end the program.

Richardson's office said the North Korean delegation, made up of diplomats from the country's mission to the United Nations, had asked for the Santa Fe meeting. Richardson is a former U.N. ambassador who has traveled three times to North Korea to help win the release of detained Americans and retrieve the remains of Korean War dead.

Richardson told CNN he was not negotiating on behalf of the Obama administration but said he was "sort of a liaison." His spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos, said the governor had been in "regular contact" with the State Department but was not bearing any U.S. government message.

The State Department learned weeks ago of the North Koreans' plans to visit New Mexico, because the diplomats are required to get permission to travel more than 25 miles from New York.

Richardson told MSNBC after a first round of meetings Wednesday morning that "the temperature has really cooled down" in the bilateral relationship since Clinton's visit to Pyongyang. The North Koreans, he said, "are now prepared to have a dialogue with us."

However, Richardson said, the North Koreans want direct meetings with the U.S. government. "They think the six-party talks are not working, and they don't want to return to that."

The administration has insisted that negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program occur in the context of a six-party framework that includes Japan, China, Russia and South Korea.

Richardson said the North Koreans told him that "everything would be on the table" in negotiations. But he said he did not get any assurances that they would scale back their nuclear program.

"They wouldn't bring that up with me. This is up to the two governments," Richardson told CNN. He said he would convey to the Obama administration whatever the North Koreans tell him during the two days of planned talks.

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