Richardson to Hold Nuke Talks with N. Korea

Gov. Bill Richardson (search), who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton (search) presidency, is heading overseas next week for talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear arms program.

Richardson leaves Saturday and will arrive in North Korea on Monday for three days of talks, his spokesman, Pahl Shipley, said late Thursday.

The trip was first reported on The New York Times (search) Web site.

Richardson told the newspaper that he won't represent the United States as an official negotiator but said the trip is intended "to move the diplomatic process forward" after an agreement last month in talks between North Korea and the United States.

"I am not an official envoy, but I am supportive of the administration's new policy to engage the North Koreans through dialogue and diplomacy," Richardson said.

"North Korea is at a crossroads today, and it should take advantage of the goal of the six-party talks, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, to advance its own interest in reviving its economy and building a better life for its citizens," he said.

In January 2003, months after North Korea admitted having violated the terms of a 1994 Clinton-era accord freezing its nuclear program, top North Korean envoys went to Santa Fe with Richardson, who had just taken office as governor.

Richardson also has maintained his contacts with North Korea, briefing then-Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) and other officials during President Bush's (search) first term on his relations.

Richardson also visited North Korea during his tenure as a congressman from New Mexico. In 1996, he helped secure the release of an American detained by North Korea for three months on spy charges. Two years earlier, he helped free a U.S. soldier whose helicopter had strayed into North Korea.