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U.S. Looks at Options While Richardson Meets With North Koreans

President Bush bonded with China President Jiang Zemin about the trouble posed by North Korea's withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Friday, as two North Korean diplomats planned to discuss options with New Mexico's governor.

Speaking with the leader of the world's most populous nation -- one that borders North Korea, Bush said, "This binds us in common purpose."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that in the 15-minute conversation, Bush re-affirmed to Jiang that the United States "has no hostile intentions toward North Korea" and seeks a peaceful solution to the standoff.

Jiang responded by repeating its commitment to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, Fleischer said.

"The two presidents agreed to continue to work together to help ensure peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," he said.

The conversation come as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson hosted two North Korean officials for a second day of talks -- the first day was accompanied by the communist nation's announcement that it would withdraw from the global nuclear arms treaty.

Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador, chatted briefly about the weather with North Korean diplomats Han Song Ryol and Mun Jong Chol Friday at a picture-taking session at the governor's mansion.

Asked to assess the talks, Richardson replied, "I'm not an official negotiator, but they're going well."

Han initiated the unusual diplomatic channel through Richardson, a Democrat and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, earlier in the week, when U.S. officials met with South Korean and Japanese officials on the nuclear threat.

The two were given permission from Secretary of State Colin Powell to leave New York City and make the trip to Mexico, where they met over dinner with Richardson on Thursday.

The discussions, which the White House said could last another day, came shortly after North Korea's official news agency reported that the nation would leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to be free from obligations to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, whose inspectors were already tossed out of the country.

"The withdrawal from the NPT is a legitimate self-defensive measure taken against the U.S. moves to stifle" North Korea, Central Radio Station reported. North Korea has repeatedly accused the United States of plotting an invasion.

On Friday, Vice President Dick Cheney said North Korea's announcement of withdrawal "is of serious concern to North Korea's neighbors and to the entire international community."

"Their actions threaten to undermine decades of nonproliferation efforts and only further isolate the regime. North Korea's relations with the entire international community depend on their taking prompt and verifiable action to completely dismantle their nuclear weapons program," Cheney said in a speech to a business group.

 Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, called Korea's move "a continuation of a policy of defiance and was counterproductive to ongoing efforts to achieve peace and stability in the Korean peninsula."

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, where he met with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar, ElBaradei said Pyongyang's withdrawal from the pact "may constitute a threat to international peace and security."

Prior to Friday's meeting in New Mexico, North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations Pak Gil Yon told reporters in New York that North Korea was developing its nuclear power merely for peaceful uses, but said any "future development will depend entirely on the attitude of the United States."

He added that "any kind of economic sanctions (will) be taken by the Security Council as a declaration of war."

On Friday, North Korea also warned the United States against taking military action, saying it would "finally lead to the third World War."

The United States has not suggested any military action, but it has insisted that North Korea "completely dismantle" its nuclear weapons program and make a decision whether to open a dialogue for a peaceful resolution of the country's nuclear weapons development.

Fleischer said that while North Korea's moves are troublesome, given the fact that it has not abided by the nonproliferation treaty for years, it "comes as no surprise."

While the White House waits to see what offers Richardson can evoke, the Bush administration has made clear that the governor is not an official envoy of the U.S. government, but merely a listener.

Richardson agreed on the limited role he would play. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell went over U.S. policy toward North Korea with Richardson.

"I am going to try to be helpful. I am not an official negotiator. The administration has many channels that they are pursuing with the North Koreans," Richardson said before the meeting.

"I am simply going to work with the North Koreans, whom I know and have dealt with in the past," he added.

The White House directed Richardson to allow no room for bargaining and informed him that the United States will stand for nothing less than complete disarmament.

"The only message we expect is what America's position is, that we are ready to talk, and that we will not negotiate," Fleischer said Thursday. "That's the U.S. position. You should not see this as anything beyond that."

Richardson was a surprise intermediary in the U.S.-North Korean dispute. But the newly-minted governor does have experience with the North Koreans.

In 1996, as a New Mexico congressman, he went to North Korea and helped secure the release of an American who was detained for three months on spy charges.

In 1994, he helped arrange the freedom of a U.S. soldier whose helicopter had strayed into North Korea.

He also undertook diplomatic forays into Sudan, Cuba and Iraq during his House days. He was sometimes known at the "U.S. ambassador to rogue states."

He served both as U.N. ambassador and energy secretary for the Clinton administration, when North Korea had somewhat warmer ties with Washington.

The Bush administration argues North Korea acted in bad faith during the Clinton era by carrying out a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of agreements even as it was displaying friendship toward Washington.

Aside from talks with China, the Bush administration has been urging other countries to put international pressure on North Korea to force it to reconsider its nuclear program.

North Korea appears to have scant support from the outside world, but the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, told reporters in Washington Thursday that Russia was not doing enough to influence the isolated nation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.