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Richardson optimistic about North Korea

SANTA FE, N.M. – North Korean officials said “everything’s on the table” as the reclusive communist country heads back to six-nation talks about its nuclear program, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday after a meeting with two North Korean diplomats.The six countries meeting Monday in Beijing for the talks – also including the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea – will pick up where they left off in November 2005, seeking to implement the only agreement ever reached at the negotiations.Richardson said he pressed the officials during a two-hour session at the governor’s mansion to take specific steps, such as inviting U.N. weapons inspectors back to the country and shutting down its nuclear reactor.The governor – a former congressman, U.N. ambassador and energy secretary in the Clinton administration – said he is “cautiously optimistic” that progress would be made. He described the North Koreans’ attitude as “positive, hopeful.””What I believe is that the atmosphere is good for some progress, and that is a step in the right direction, because for 13 months there’s been no progress,” Richardson said.North Korea agreed in September 2005 to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid. But it has boycotted the talks since November 2005, protesting U.S. financial restrictions imposed over Pyongyang’s alleged complicity in money laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. currency.”They said that everything’s on the table … They obviously want the United States to take some steps, too, along with the six-party countries,” the governor said. He declined to suggest what those should be, saying that was up to negotiators.Kim Myong Gil, a minister for North Korea’s mission to the U.N. in New York, who is headed to the Beijing talks, read a brief statement at the close of Friday’s meeting.”As usual, the governor has provided us with wise counsel regarding the steps that can be taken … for the better mutual relations and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and bringing about peace and stability to the region,” he said.The main U.S. nuclear envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, met last month in Beijing with his North Korean counterpart to offer what the United States believed to be a timeline – and incentives – for the North to dismantle its nuclear program, which conducted a nuclear test Oct. 9.The North has not publicly responded to the offer.The U.S. has agreed to a separate working group to discuss financial restrictions that have been placed on a bank for its alleged complicity in the North Korean regime’s counterfeiting of U.S. currency and money laundering to sell weapons of mass destruction. That financial issue had been the North’s latest reason for staying away from the nuclear talks, claiming Washington has maintained a “hostile” attitude.Richardson, who has a long relationship with North Korea and has visited the country five times, described his role as a catalyst.”We know each other. They like to call me to discuss things, and I try to push them in the right direction,” the governor said.The White House said it welcomed Richardson’s contacts with the North Korean officials, and Richardson said he would immediately brief the Bush administration on the meeting.Richardson, a Democrat just re-elected to his second term, is considering a possible presidential bid in 2008 but has said he will not make a decision until January.—Associated Press Writer Burt Herman in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.


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