Published January 12, 2003
SANTA FE, N.M. – North Korea does not intend to build nuclear weapons, a senior Pyongyang diplomat assured New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson over the course of three days of talks held in Santa Fe.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and energy secretary in the Clinton administration, said he and Ambassador Han Song Ryol discussed the issues involved in the U.S. stalemate with the communist nation "very frankly, but in a positive atmosphere."
U.S. officials reacted with skepticism, noting that North Korea said Friday that it would withdraw from a treaty designed to curb the spread of nuclear technology, and on Saturday said it was considering restarting missile tests and may begin work to make atomic bombs.
In addition, the isolated Stalinist regime intensified its defiance with a huge rally in the capital, where a million people stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a downtown square embellished with anti-American banners and huge portraits of leader Kim Jong Il.
While North Korean representatives were meeting with Richardson, the country "continued to take steps in the wrong direction ... that would raise tensions with the international community," State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said.
"The United States has made clear that we are prepared to talk to North Korea about its willingness to meet its obligations to the international community," she said.
"In New Mexico, North Korea did state its willingness to have a dialogue. ... We will look carefully at everything the North Koreans said in New Mexico."
The United States is also seeking U.N. support in attempting to halt North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
Richardson stated that North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador said during the talks that "North Korea has no intentions of building nuclear weapons."
In New Mexico, Richardson said North Korea's deputy U.N. Ambassador Han Song Ryol assured him the North wanted improved ties with the United States and had no plans to build a bomb.
"The next step after my talks is for official channels to open" between North Korea and the United States, Richardson said in a television interview.
Ambassador Han said in a brief statement that Richardson is "a top negotiator."
Richardson emphasized that he was not an official representative of the Bush administration.
"I expressed my deep concern to Ambassador Han about North Korea's withdrawal from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and the announcement today that it will begin missile testing," Richardson said. "I believe that the North Koreans now understand the depth of international concern over the issue."
Earlier Saturday, North Korea held a rally in the capital, Pyongyang, to declare it would seek "revenge with blood" toward any country that violates its sovereignty.
The North has reversed its 1994 pledge to freeze its nuclear weapons programs, a decision that Secretary of State Colin Powell said was prompting the United States to go to the U.N. Security Council.
Powell met Friday in Washington with Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
North Korean officials said the country does not plan to rejoin the nonproliferation treaty, but would agree to let the United States verify that it is not producing nuclear weapons if Washington drops its hostile stance.
One option open to the Security Council would be to apply worldwide economic sanctions against North Korea, worsening its already desperate economic situation.
President Bush talked by telephone Friday to Chinese President Jiang Zemin in an effort to take a united stand on North Korea.
Powell condemned North Korea's decision to quit the 1968 treaty, saying "North Korea has thumbed its nose at the international community."
"It is a very serious situation," Powell said. "We are not going to be intimidated. We are not going to be put in a panic situation. We are going to work this deliberately."
At the same time, Powell renewed the administration's overture to hold direct talks with North Korea and said, "We hope the North Korean leadership will understand the folly of its actions."
ElBaradei accused North Korea of "a policy of defiance."
Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Sweden also denounced the North Korean decision. Japan called on its regional neighbor to reverse course.
After Bush talked to Jiang for 15 minutes, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush had told the Chinese President "this binds us in common purpose."
Bush also told Jiang the United States seeks a peaceful solution to the standoff, while Jiang "reiterated China's commitment to a non-nuclear Korean peninsula," Fleischer said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.