- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) — A North Korean delegation has arrived in New Mexico for talks with Gov. Bill Richardson aimed at breaking the deadlock over Pyongyang's decision to reactivate its nuclear weapons program. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said Richardson has had "various contacts (with North Korea) over a long period of time."

Richardson is believed to have developed his contacts with the North Koreans while working as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Earlier Thursday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told a briefing in Washington that North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, Han Song Ryol, had contacted Richardson, asking him to intervene in negotiations with that country.

The State Department has given permission to North Korean diplomats at the United Nations to travel to New Mexico for the meeting with Richardson.

North Korean diplomats require State Department permission to travel outside New York.

The two-day talks between the North Korean delegation and the New Mexico governor are expected to continue through Friday.

Richardson, who has visited North Korea on two diplomatic missions in the 1990s, said he was happy to help defuse tensions with the communist state.

"We're aware of the meeting, contacts between the North Koreans and Gov. Richardson. … We approved travel for people in New York to travel to New Mexico. … The secretary's (of State Colin Powell) been in touch with Governor Richardson," Boucher told a briefing in Washington.

North Korea does not have an embassy in Washington but maintains a mission at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

Earlier this week, Washington used the mission in New York for sending a joint message from the United States, Japan and South Korea to the regime in Pyongyang, urging it to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Boucher refused to comment on the reports that North Korea's U.N. envoy had initiated a series of talks with the governor.

"I don't know if I can say 'round of talks.' We just know the North Koreans are going down to see him, and we've been in touch with the governor," Boucher said.

The meeting with Richardson came as Washington was waiting for a response from Pyongyang to the proposals that came out of the United States, Japan and South Korea meeting on Monday and Tuesday.

After the meeting Washington agreed to resume talks with North Korea if it unconditionally stops last month's initiative to reactivate its nuclear weapons program.

The three allied states also assured North Korea the United States does not want to use force to resolve the dispute.

Boucher said Powell went over U.S. policy toward North Korea by telephone with Richardson ahead of the Thursday meeting. The governor said he planned a second meeting with Han on Friday. He added he had previous contacts with Han.

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