Two diplomats from North Korea met Wednesday with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in the southwestern state's capital, Santa Fe. The governor says North Korea is seeking direct talks with the United States aimed at resolving the dispute over the communist nation's development of nuclear weapons.
Speaking shortly after his meeting with the two North Korean diplomats, Governor Richardson said he believes relations between the United States and North Korea could now be on a better path.
He told reporters the friction between the two nations is diminishing.
REPORTER: Should people view this is an informal thawing of relations, a hopeful sign?RICHARDSON: "Hopeful sign."
The New Mexico governor and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said much of the improvement can be linked to the visit to North Korea by former President Bill Clinton two weeks ago in which he obtained the release of two U.S. journalists who were being held by the North Koreans.
He said the two North Korean diplomats who visited him in Santa Fe indicated that their country should be rewarded for its goodwill gesture in releasing the two Americans.
But the Obama administration and the U.S. State Department have made clear that Governor Richardson was not representing the U.S. government in his discussions with the North Koreans. The White House continues to support the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which Pyongyang abandoned in April. Those talks included the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Governor Richardson said the North Koreans believe those talks are going nowhere.
Former President Clinton met with President Obama at the White House Tuesday, to discuss his recent talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. Mr. Clinton says Mr. Kim expressed a desire for improved relations with the United States.
Mr. Clinton left North Korea on August fourth with U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had been held for four months after being accused of espionage and illegal entry into North Korea. The two American journalists say they were on the Chinese side of the border when they were abducted by North Korean forces.
The two North Korean diplomats who met with Governor Richardson - U.N. ambassador Kim Myong Gil and counselor Jong Jo Paek - traveled to New Mexico from their posts at the United Nations in New York after being granted permission to do so by the U.S. State Department. Since North Korea and the United States do not have diplomatic relations, diplomats from the communist nation assigned to the United Nations in New York are normally restricted to an area within 40 kilometers of UN headquarters.
Governor Richardson has gone to North Korea several times, the last time two years ago to bring back the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War. In recent years he has also carried out humanitarian missions and served as an unofficial U.S. envoy in other parts of the world.