WASHINGTON — New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a veteran troubleshooter, said Wednesday he will make a private visit to North Korea next week in a bid to defuse soaring tension on the Korean peninsula.
His office in Santa Fe said Richardson will be in Pyongyang from December 16-20, weeks after North Korea shelled a South Korean border island and revealed an extensive uranium enrichment program that alarmed US scientists.
Against a backdrop of allied military exercises and apparent North Korean artillery drills, Richardson said he had been invited to North Korea by First Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator.
"I am increasingly concerned with the recent actions by the North Koreans, which have raised tensions and are contributing to instability on the Korean Peninsula," Richardson said in a statement from his office.
"I am traveling as a private citizen with considerable experience in dealing with the North Koreans," he said.
"I am not carrying any messages, but I want to be helpful during this volatile period," he said. "If I can contribute to the easing of tension on the peninsula, the trip will be well worth it."
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said he was aware of Richardson's planned visit but said it was a private visit and that "he will not be carrying any particular message" from the US government.
"Normally before Governor Richardson goes, he checks in with us," Crowley said.
"Whether that has happened yet or not, I don't know, but I would expect that we would have some contact with him just to bring him up to speed before he goes," Crowley said.
"It's not unusual that when we have these kinds of high-level visitors, he'll let us know afterwards," Crowley said, adding former president Jimmy Carter has debriefed the secretary of state after his foreign visits.
"I would expect Governor Richardson to report back after he's done," he said.
Richardson's office said the governor will be accompanied by his senior advisor, K.A. Namkung, adding the trip is being privately funded.
In Washington on Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton consulted her counterparts Kim Sung-Hwan of South Korea and Seiji Maehara of Japan about how the three allies could deal with North Korean provocations.
The three top diplomats urged China to do more to rein in its ally in Pyongyang and vowed solidarity in defending Seoul from any further attacks from Pyongyang.
Clinton nonetheless kept the door open to dialogue with North Korea.
But she said the North must first repair ties with the South and "cease its provocative behavior" for long-stalled six-party negotiations to resume.
The allies declined China's invitation to hold emergency six-party talks with Russia in Beijing this month after North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong island, resulting in the deaths of two marines and two civilians.
Richardson traveled twice to North Korea in the 1990s to secure the release of US prisoners and visited there in April 2007 to bring back the remains of American servicemen killed during the Korean War.
A veteran Democratic politician, Richardson served as US ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary under president Bill Clinton. The prominent Hispanic politician also made a failed bid for the presidency in 2008.
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