NKorea calling for new nuke talks

SANTA FE: North Korea is calling for new nuclear talks but wants them directly with the United States, Governor Bill Richardson said after a rare meeting with diplomats sent by Pyongyang.

"We had productive talks," Richardson said. "I got a sense that temperatures have really cooled down since President Clinton?s visit.

"The delegation indicated that North Korea is ready for a new dialogue with the United States regarding the nuclear issue," he said in a statement issued half-way through two days of talks in New Mexico.

"The question is whether to proceed with face-to-face bilateral talks, as the North Koreans prefer, or to utilize the six-party framework that the United States has advocated. The North Koreans clearly want bilateral talks and not the six-party framework."

Pyongyang abandoned six-party talks and vowed to restart its plutonium-producing program in April after a censure from the UN Security Council for testing a long-range rocket. It went on to stage its second nuclear test on May 25.

The United States has refused bilateral talks with North Korea, saying negotations are possible only within the context of the six-party forum grouping the two Koreas, China, Russia, the United States and Japan.

The Santa Fe meetings, requested by the North Koreans, are the latest in a series of encouraging signals from Pyongyang, namely the release of two US journalists to former president Bill Clinton and overtures to South Korea.

Clinton briefed US President Barack Obama Tuesday on his historic talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il earlier this month in Pyongyang during which he secured the release of the reporters.

Richardson, who met with North Korean delegates Kim Myong-Gil and Paek Jong-Ho at his sprawling hacienda overlooking Santa Fe, said Pyongyang felt it was now up to Obama to make the next move.

"The North Koreans obviously used the journalists as a bargaining chip and now they want a gesture in return. What I believe they want in return is, all right, the US is now ready to talk to us directly," he told CNN.

Despite the long-stated US policy of no direct talks, Richardson was upbeat.

"I detected for the first time... a lessening of tension, some positive vibrations."

"They're leaving it up to the US on who should they talk to. They didn't place any conditions, and that's good news," he said.

The Clinton-Kim meeting was the highest-level US contact with the North Korean leadership in years and brought to an end months of escalating rhetoric between the long-time foes.

Kim and Paek, both North Korean delegates at the United Nations, were granted special permission to visit Richardson as ordinarily they cannot go beyond a 25-mile (40-kilometer) radius of New York City.

The pair, who enjoyed dinner with Richardson on Tuesday evening, will meet briefly with the governor again on Thursday after several hours of discussion on the first day of talks, aides said.

The White House stated clearly that the North Korean mission had not come at the behest of the Obama administration.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said no message had been passed to Richardson to give to the North Koreans and reiterated Washington's policy on North Korea.

"Our goal is very simple and very clear. Our goal is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And, of course, we want to see progress toward that."

In another possible sign of a change of attitude in Pyongyang, the North has warmed in recent days to its southern neighbor after months of hostility, making a surprise offer to relaunch cross-border tours and allow reunions of divided families.

Richardson traveled twice to North Korea in the 1990s to secure the release of US prisoners and was last there in April 2007 to bring back the remains of US servicemen killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.

A veteran Democratic politician, Richardson served as US ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary under Clinton. The prominent Hispanic politician also made a failed bid for the presidency in 2008.