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8:40am — Back to North Korea?

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. says he’s not making rumored return trip.

10:50am UPDATE: "The governor has no plans to go to North Korea at this time," Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson, told ABQjournal.com.


Gov. Bill Richardson could be ready to go back to North Korea soon — not as an official U.S. envoy, but as an information conduit for the Bush Administration dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, according to a report from Yonhap, the South Korean news agency.

Richardson traveled to North Korea last October and discussed that country’s nuclear plans with the government’s No. 2 man, Kim Yong-nam, according to a Reuters report that was picked up this morning on The Drudge Report.

The South Korean news agency cited a diplomatic source in Seoul that Richardson has been in talks with North Korean officials about returning to Pyongyang some time soon, Reuters reported.

The diplomatic source told Yonhap that Richardson had been in talks with North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York, Reuters said.

South Korean officials had no comment and the Reuters report said the Governor’s Office hadn’t returned phone calls for comment. Meanwhile, we’ve placed our own phone call for comment to the Governor’s Office in Santa Fe.

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, has had several contacts with the reclusive North Korean regime in the past.

He met with North Korean officials in January 2003 at the Governor’s Mansion in Santa Fe after Pyongyang said it was getting out of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, according to the Reuters report.

According to Seoul’s Korea Times, the governor’s first contact with North Korea came in 1994 when Richardson, still a U.S. congressman from New Mexico, negotiated the release of two U.S. helicopter pilots who were forced to land north of the demilitarized zone that separates the Koreas.

The Korea Times reported on its Web site that the unnamed diplomatic source told the Yonhap News Agency that it wasn’t clear whether Richardson, should he make the trip, would be traveling as a U.S. government envoy but because of Richardson’s "long career as a diplomat" and "his relationship with the U.S. administration" his trip would likely have the impact of an official visit.

But Richardson’s relationship with the Bush administration — especially on the issue of North Korea — hasn’t been that rosy.

Just last month, a war of words erupted between Richardson and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, who told reporters in a news briefing that Richardson had unsuccessfully wooed North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "with flowers and chocolates" as an envoy of the Clinton administration.

According to a July 12 Albuquerque Journal report, Richardson shot back accusing Snow of not letting the "facts get in the way of a snappy quote" and the Bush administration of being "ungrateful" for his efforts to keep a line open to North Korea.

Richardson said the "unsuccessful" inducements Snow mentioned, such as a basketball signed by Michael Jordan, weren’t brought to Kim Jong Il by him but by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Richardson then slammed the current administration, saying that "the North Koreans are more dangerous than ever, and the region is more unstable," the Journal reported.

The governor has also encouraged the White House to engage North Korea in direct talks, something the Bush administration has refused to do, preferring the currently stalled six-nation negotiations with Pyongyang, the Journal reported.

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