Bill Richardson Plans North Korea Visit For 'Easing Of Tension'
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will visit North Korea next week at the invitation of the Pyongyang regime, the governor's office said Wednesday.
Richardson will leave New Mexico on Tuesday and return Dec. 20, according to Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the governor.
The trip comes at a time of heightened tensions, two weeks after North Korea shelled a South Korean island.
"I am increasingly concerned with the recent actions by the North Koreans, which have raised tensions and are contributing to instability on the Korean Peninsula," Richardson said in a statement.
The Democratic governor, who leaves office Dec. 31, was invited to visit North Korea by Kim Gye Gwan, the country's chief nuclear negotiator, according to Gallegos.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Richardson will not carry any message from the U.S. government.
Richardson acknowledged that but said, "If I can contribute to the easing of tension on the peninsula, the trip will be well worth it."
Accompanying Richardson will be his senior adviser on Asian affairs, K.A. "Tony" Namkung.
Richardson has traveled to North Korea seven times, most recently in 2007 to recover the remains of American servicemen killed in the Korean War. He also has met in New Mexico with North Korean diplomats three times since 2003, when he became governor.
He was U.N. ambassador in the Clinton administration and for years has served as a roving diplomatic troubleshooter, including missions to Sudan, Cuba and Iraq.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.