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US Governor Says North Korea Willing to Rejoin Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty


New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has just completed a visit to Pyongyang, says he was told North Korea will return to six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons programs next month.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson says he was told North Korea will definitely attend the next round of six-nation talks in Beijing concerning its nuclear weapons programs.

"North Korea will return to the talks in early November, unconditionally," he announced.

He says he was told Pyongyang is willing to rejoin the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it abandoned in 2003, and to submit again to United Nations nuclear "safeguards," which include guidelines on the operation of nuclear facilities and supervision by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

North Korea agreed to these points in principle, and to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, at the last round of six-party talks in September.

Mr. Richardson, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration, said he met in Pyongyang with the man considered the second most powerful in the North Korean hierarchy, Kim Yong Nam, president of the Supreme People's Assembly Presidium, and Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju.

He said he was also given a rare two-hour tour of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex, which he said he urged the North Koreans to shut down while the six-party talks continue, as a sign of good faith.

North Korea claims it has reprocessed plutonium from the facility to make an undisclosed number of nuclear weapons. Mr. Richardson said he asked about those weapons, but learned nothing new.

"They have stated that they have them, in the past, and my sense was two [nuclear weapons] perhaps. I pressed, but that's the best [answer] I got. But I can't verify that," he said.

He told reporters in Tokyo Friday his three-day trip was a success, and said the discussions were the most constructive he has had with Pyongyang officials during four visits there over a 15-year period.

After agreeing in principle last month to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, Pyongyang turned around and insisted the international community provide it with a light-water nuclear reactor first. The other parties to the talks have rejected this. Mr. Richardson said the North Koreans expressed some flexibility on the issue. He said he does not believe it is a deal breaker.

The governor, who stressed that his visit was a private one, says he was able to achieve one concrete result, convincing North Korea to change its mind about expelling foreign aid workers from the country.

"Following my discussion, the North Koreans have agreed to reverse course, and not expel humanitarian aid workers by the end of this year," he explained.

Pyongyang recently announced that it wanted the aid workers out, and wanted international agencies to shift from providing food aid to helping the country develop its agriculture.

Governor Richardson predicted slow, steady progress in the negotiations. He praised China for what he called its active role in hosting the six-party talks.

China announced Friday that President Hu Jintao is to visit North Korea next week, part of a flurry of diplomatic initiatives and announcements in preparation for the resumption of the talks next month.

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