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7:40am — Expertise, Anyone?

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Richardson on "Today": U.S. still needs to talk to North Korea.

9:25am UPDATE: The White House has said no to direct talks with North Korea, saying it will not be intimidated by a reported threat from Pyongyang that it could fire a nuclear-tipped missile unless the U.S. acts to resolve the standofff, The Associated Press is reporting.

"This is the way North Korea typically negotiates by threat and intimidation," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told the AP. ""It’s worked for them before. It won’t work for them now."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told "Today" show anchor Matt Lauer just moments ago that the Bush administration is "finally headed in the right direction" by seeking sanctions on North Korea through the United Nations.

The next step, said Richardson, who has been making the rounds on television news shows in the wake of North Korea’s underground nuclear test on Sunday, is "to get China to finally put pressure on North Korea."

And finally, said Richardson — who has met with North Koreans at least five times, including making a trip to Pyongyang a year ago, the Bush administration must meet face-to-face with North Korean leaders.

When Lauer asked whether agreeing to direct talks would be sending the "wrong message" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Richardson said, "You’re not giving him anything by talking directly."

Face-to-face talks would allow the U.S. to send "your toughest message," Richardson told Lauer.

Richardson blasted the Bush administration, saying "our obsession with Iraq" has prevented coming up with a comprehensive framework for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

"The point is, our policy today has not worked," said Richardson, who added, however, that with its quest for sanctions through the United Nations, the Bush administration "is finally headed in the right direction."

But without direct talks, he said, North Korea is going to "continue to act irresponsibly."

Asked by Lauer whether Kim Jong Il is a "nut," Richardson responded: "He’s smart as a fox, unpredictable, isolated, desperate for attention and close to being paranoid."

But, he added, he has nuclear weapons — perhaps as many as five — and a million and a half troops poised on the country’s border with South Korea.

The real danger, however, is not North Korea’s "very small weapon," said Richardson, but the possible sale of nuclear technology to Iran and other countries.

(NOTE: Richardson, who appeared Monday afternoon on CNN’s "Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer, at least called Matt Lauer by his real name. During his interview on CNN, he called Blitzer "Chris" at least twice, leaving Blitzer to scratch his head and ask "I wonder who he’s talking about." As if Wolf didn’t know. Richardson also was on MSNBC’s "Hardball" with Chris Matthews. It’s hard to keep track when you’re in West Palm Beach running hard for re-election as governor of New Mexico.)