- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor who has undertaken diplomatic missions to countries at odds with the United States, began a rare visit to North Korea yesterday to recover remains of U.S. servicemen killed in the Korean War.

The four-day trip, which has been endorsed by the Bush administration, occurs days before a crucial deadline in a recent nuclear disarmament accord. But Mr. Richardson, a Democratic candidate for president, said he had no intention of negotiating nuclear matters.

“It could be the signal of an improved relationship,” Mr. Richardson said of the discussions to secure U.S. remains.

“The North Koreans always consider protocol very important. They like to be considered a major power in the region,” he told a reporter on the flight to Pyongyang.

North Korea agreed to nuclear disarmament on Feb. 13, raising hopes for an end to a long-running standoff with the United States and regional powers. The agreement set an April 14 deadline for the North to shut down its main nuclear reactor.

There has been little progress, but the State Department said Friday that a technical hitch concerning North Korean funds in a Macao bank had been resolved, clearing the way for the nuclear agreement to go forward.

Mr. Richardson has regularly made diplomatic trips, often on his own initiative, to global hot spots. Although visits to North Korea by senior U.S. officials are rare, this is Mr. Richardson’s sixth.

A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary in the Clinton administration, Mr. Richardson visited Sudan in January to try to end four years of fighting in the Darfur region.

Mr. Richardson said the timing of his visit is important and will show North Korea the United States’ good intentions. He said the North Koreans will understand the symbolism of a delegation that includes Anthony Principi, Mr. Bush’s former veteran affairs secretary, and Victor Cha, a top adviser on North Korea.

His group is expected to oversee the transfer of remains from the North Korean army to U.N. personnel.

More than 33,000 American troops died in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, and more than 8,100 are listed as missing. After North Korea invaded South Korea, U.S. forces intervened on behalf of the South while Chinese forces backed the North.

After Mr. Richardson’s arrival, his delegation was handed a schedule for the next several days that included talks and dinner with North Korean officials who follow North American affairs, a performance by the national symphony orchestra and a visit to the “spy ship,” the USS Pueblo, which was captured along with its crew of 83 in 1968. A visit to the home of the late Kim Il-sung, the founding president of North Korea, was also planned.

Mr. Richardson said he requested to meet with top leaders and to visit the North’s sole operating nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, 55 miles north of Pyongyang.


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