Richardson calls meeting with N. Koreans ‘hopeful sign’
N.M. governor says topic was nuclear talks
SANTA FE - Governor Bill Richardson said yesterday that his meeting with North Korean diplomats offered a “hopeful sign’’ of improving relations with the reclusive nation, which reiterated its desire for direct talks with the United States.
The Democratic governor said he had “productive talks’’ with a pair of representatives from the North Korean mission to the United Nations.
“The delegation indicated that North Korea is ready for a new dialogue with the United States regarding the nuclear issue,’’ Richardson said in a statement. “The question is whether to proceed with face-to-face bilateral talks, as the North Koreans prefer, or to utilize the six-party framework that the United States has advocated. The North Koreans clearly want bilateral talks and not the six-party framework.’’
He said “temperatures have really cooled down’’ since former President Bill Clinton went to North Korea earlier this month and brought back two imprisoned American journalists.
This was the third time Richardson has met with North Korean diplomats in Santa Fe since taking office as governor in 2003.
Richardson was ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration and for years has served as a roving diplomatic troubleshooter, including missions to North Korea, Sudan, Cuba, and Iraq.
In another sign of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, North Korean officials agreed to send a delegation to the funeral of the former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, according to a lawmaker quoted by the Yonhap news agency in Seoul. Such an official visit would signal a dramatic change in policy regarding diplomatic exchanges.
Park Jie-won, an opposition member of Parliament who was once an aide to Kim, said yesterday he received the news of the visit in a letter faxed from the North Korean government agency in charge of cross-border affairs. The agency said five North Korean “special envoys’’ would make a one- or two-day trip for the funeral, bringing with them a wreath from the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
A spokesman for Richardson, Gilbert Gallegos, emphasized that the governor was not negotiating with the North Koreans nor representing President Obama’s administration.
The six-nation talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and North and South Korea had been aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program.
But North Korea pulled out of the talks in April and has sought one-on-one negotiations with Washington. The United States has said it’s open to talks with Pyongyang only as part of the six-nation discussions.
The North Korean delegation had dinner with Richardson Tuesday night and will be briefed today on state government initiatives to encourage the production of renewable energy.
Gallegos said the North Koreans had expressed interest in renewable energy programs. Richardson will not be part of the energy briefings.
Also yesterday, a technical glitch forced South Korea to abort liftoff of its first rocket into space, delaying a launch that threatened to stoke tensions with North Korea, which also has an advanced missile system.
Material from the International Herald Tribune was used in this report.