TOKYO – New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (search), 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 atomic weapons program and a commitment to allow verification that it will remain nuclear-free.
Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (search), also told The Associated Press during a 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 AP at Yokota Air Base (search) on the outskirts of Tokyo.
North Korea's state-run news agency reported Monday evening that Richardson had arrived in Pyongyang.
The Democratic governor has been to North Korea several times before 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.
"It was a major step forward in the last six party talks, and now is the follow through," Richardson said. "Where I think I can help is in the implementation — I'm not there to negotiate anything new."
The governor was accompanied by public health, energy and other officials from his state. Richardson said he hoped their presence would show the North Koreans what kind of assistance they could expect in return for giving up nuclear weapons.
"The idea behind the experts is to say, look ... there will be advantages" to abandoning atomic bombs, he said.
Richardson said he did not expect to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (search) and instead hopes to meet with Foreign Ministry and defense officials. The entourage was scheduled to stay in North Korea from Monday evening until Thursday, then travel to Japan and South Korea to brief officials. The group is scheduled to be back in New Mexico on Oct. 22.
Richardson developed a reputation as a roving diplomat when he served in Congress, traveling to Iraq, North Korea, Cuba and Sudan to win the freedom of captive Americans. Richardson left Congress to join the administration of former President Bill Clinton (search) as ambassador to the United Nations.
For Richardson, who's considered a likely presidential contender in 2008, the trip offers a potential chance to display his foreign policy know-how. The governor, who is up for re-election next year, denied seeking advantage from the trip and said that foreign policy should be beyond partisan politics.
Since his election as governor, Richardson has remained active in foreign affairs, appearing frequently on national TV hosting international visitors in Santa Fe, including officials from China, North and South Korea, and Japan.