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No Plans to Build Nuclear Weapons, N. Korea tells Richardson - 2003-01-11

North Korean officials have finished talks with a former U.S. ambassador, telling him their country does not intend to build nuclear weapons. The crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program continues to grow, as Pyongyang suggests it may resume testing ballistic missiles.

After three days of talks with North Korean officials, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson said Saturday, they told him the decision to restart some nuclear facilities does not mean that North Korea intends to build atomic weapons.

"The North Koreans told me that they don't plan to build nuclear weapons, and I took that as a positive statement," he said.

Mr. Richardson says he expressed what he calls the "strong views" of Secretary of State Colin Powell that North Korea must scrap its nuclear weapons program, amid growing concern over Pyongyang's decision to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"I think that North Korea needs to recognize that, some of these initiatives that they have taken, like the withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, are not helpful," he said.

Dropping out of the treaty means United Nations members may consider economic and political sanctions against North Korea. The country's U.N. ambassador, Pak Gil Yon, said Friday that his country would consider that "a declaration of war."

North Korean officials asked to meet with Mr. Richardson, who is not a member of the Bush administration, but who has a history of contacts with Pyongyang, including negotiating the 1994 release of an American accused of spying in North Korea.

The former Clinton administration official, who is currently governor of the southwest state of New Mexico, says he has briefed the State Department on the talks, and his role in the crisis is now over.

"I think what now needs to happen is that the governments now need to talk to each other," he said. "My role is concluded."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday that North Korea's decision to withdraw from the non-proliferation treaty does not change the U.S. offer to talk about dismantling the country's nuclear weapons program. But he says there will be no negotiations.

Ambassador Pak says the U.S. offer to talk, but not negotiate, is not sincere.

North Korea Saturday suggested that it might resume testing ballistic missiles for the first time in four years.

President Bush says he does not want to solve the crisis militarily and is working with China, Japan, and South Korea on a diplomatic solution.