- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

SANTA FE, N.M., Jan. 11 (UPI) — New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Saturday that he believes "firmly … there will be a peaceful resolution through dialogue and diplomacy" of the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, concluded three days of what he called "positive, constructive" talks with North Korea's U.N. delegation. Deputy Ambassador Han Song Ryol and other North Korean diplomats were given special permission to travel to Santa Fe to meet with him starting Thursday evening.

After a total of almost nine hours of meetings, Richardson and Han "discussed issues very frankly but in a positive atmosphere," the Democratic governor told reporters in a brief news conference before taking Han back to the airport. "Ambassador Han expressed to me — and this is encouraging — that North Korea is willing to have better relations with the United States."

Richardson also related that "the government of North Korea wants to solve the nuclear issues with dialogue. … North Korea has no intention to build nuclear weapons."

The U.S. State Department was less optimistic about the informal talks in comment to United Press International. "While the delegates were in New Mexico, North Korea continued to take steps in the wrong direction," said spokeswoman Nancy Beck. She said the North Korean decision to "withdraw from the non-proliferation treaty and the threat to resume missile testing" was particularly disturbing.

In an interview later Saturday with CNN, Richardson said conflicting and hard-line messages "is typical of North Korean diplomacy. You have to know how to deal with it."

Richardson did emphasize in his news briefing, however, that he is "not an envoy of the Bush administration. I'm a governor. But when I was asked, I wanted to see if there was a way to support my country." Han had contacted Richardson earlier this week, asking to meet with him personally.

He said his acquaintance with Han dated from negotiations in 1994 to return a U.S. pilot downed in North Korea and from his own stint as ambassador in the late 1990s under then-President Bill Clinton. North Korea does not have an embassy in Washington but maintains a mission at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Richardson and Secretary of State Colin Powell had been in regular contact over the course of the meetings, including "this morning, twice," Richardson said.

Spokeswoman Beck said Powell received telephone reports from Richardson and "looks forward to his final report."

"Unfortunately, the North Korean delegates apparently did not address the issues of concern to the international community" in their talks with Richardson, said the State Department official.

Beck noted the North Korean delegation did express its willingness to have a dialogue and "the United States is prepared to talk about how North Korea will meet its obligations to the international community," she said. "We will look carefully at every thing the North Koreans said in New Mexico and the usual channels of communication remain open."

The informal talks capped a week of tense developments on the Korean peninsula. After rejecting the further presence of U.N. nuclear inspectors last week, North Korea announced Friday it was pulling out of the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — the first country ever to withdraw from the U.N.-brokered effort to contain international arms races and the spread of nuclear-weapons capability.

Just hours before Richardson's comments, North Korea's ambassador to China announced in Beijing the communist country's intention to resume ballistic weapons testing, last conducted in 1998. North Korea's state-run news agency also reported Saturday that more than a million citizens showed up in a rally to support its government's withdrawal from the treaty.

North Korea has blamed the United States consistently for raising tension. In October, a U.S. State Department envoy confronted North Korean officials in Pyongyang with evidence that the self-isolated country was pursuing a uranium-enrichment program. In response, the United States in November suspended heavy fuel shipments promised under a 1994 agreement with North Korea under which Pyongyang had said it would shut down its plutonium-based program. North Korea subsequently restarted that program at a small experimental reactor, claiming energy needs, and withdrew from the non-proliferation treaty.

"Today, the ringleader that is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to an extreme phase on the brink of war and running crazy to ignite the fuse of war is none other than the United States," declared a commentary broadcast Saturday on North Korean state radio and translated by the British Broadcasting Corp.

Richardson said in Santa Fe that he believed "North Korea now understands the depth of international concern" about its pullout from the treaty. Their discussions were "positive, constructive, and I think they eased tensions a bit."

He concluded his remarks by saying further efforts to resolve the crisis were "now in the lap of Secretary Powell."

"My role is concluded. I am governor of New Mexico, thankfully again … full-time," he said.

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(Anwar Iqbal contributed to this report from the U.S. State Department in Washington.)

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