New Mexico Gov. Richardson will focus on NKorean nuclear dismantlement

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, on his way to North Korea for three days of talks, said Monday he would press the communist country for concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and a commitment to allow verification that it will remain nuclear-free.

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also said on a brief refueling stop in Tokyo that he would urge North Korean officials to cooperate with humanitarian aid organizations and allow them to operate more freely in the reclusive country.

"We're going to focus on two important areas: one is verification, the second is what steps are the North Koreans taking to dismantle their nuclear weapons, concrete steps," Richardson told The Associated Press at Yokota Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo, the AP says.

North Korea's state-run news agency KCNA reported Monday evening that Richardson has arrived in Pyongyang.

Richardson, a Democrat and not part of the Republican administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, has been to North Korea several times in the past and has kept up ties with Pyongyang officials over the years. He was visiting Pyongyang at the request of North Korea.

Richardson, however, denied that he was "an interloper," saying that he was fully supportive of the Bush administration's policy of working with North Korea through the so-called six-party talks on its nuclear program.

"I'm trying to be helpful," Richardson said. "I've kept up my dialogue with them at their request, I've had a long relationship with them and I want to take advantage of that relationship to help my country."

Richardson was invited by the North Koreans in May, but postponed his trip when Washington asked him to wait until the recent round of talks in Beijing on Korea's nuclear weapons was completed. The United States had provided with him and his entourage with an Air Force plane for the trip.

The Beijing talks ended with a commitment by North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, which Pyongyang claims has already yielded a weapon. Richardson said that he would push the North Koreans to commit to specific steps to implement that agreement.

The next round of talks, which also involves China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, was scheduled for November but no date has been set.


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