Bill Richardson satisfied with DPRK visit

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Bill Richardson, New Mexico State governor of the United States, left Pyongyang for Beijing on Tuesday after a "satisfied" trip to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

U.S. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson waves his hand in Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Dec. 20, 2010. [Gao Haorong/Xinhua]

U.S. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson waves his hand in Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Dec. 20, 2010. [Gao Haorong/Xinhua] 

"It's a good visit. I'm satisfied with the results of the discussion held with the officials of the DPRK," he told Xinhua upon leaving.

Richardson was originally scheduled to leave Pyongyang on Dec. 20, but had to cancel his flight due to thick fog. He said he would make comment on the visit later in Beijing.

It is the first time that a senior U.S. official visited the DPRK after the artillery shelling exchange on Nov. 23.

Richardson, who arrived at Pyongyang on Dec. 18, came at a time when the two Koreas were on the brink of further conflicts after a UN Security Council emergency meeting failed to broker a way to stop South Korea from launching a live-fire drill from a border island.

Despite repeated warnings of counterattack, South Korea went ahead with the "reckless" live-firing exercise shortly after noon Monday from the Yeonpyeong Island, which was hit during an artillery shelling exchange late last month, with a risk of irritating Pyongyang and bringing the Peninsula into war.

The DPRK, however, backed down from previous hardline stance and refrained from any retaliation acts, saying it's not "worth" firing back and calling the drill "a childish play."

Earlier reports said Richardson had urged the DPRK not to take any "aggressive steps" in response to South Korea's live artillery drills.

The DPRK has also agreed to consider Richardson's proposal for a military commission between the United States, the DPRK and South Korea as well as a hotline for militaries between the two sides on the peninsula, CNN reported.

The DPRK on Saturday accused the United States of goading South Korea into provoking it, saying South Korea's plan to hold firing drills again on Yeonpyeong Island was an "intolerable tease" and "absolutely unfair bellicose provocation," and would lead the situation on the peninsula to an explosion.

Richardson arrived in Pyongyang at the invitation of Kim Kye Gwan, the first vice-minister of the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The outgoing governor has kept a comparatively close relationship with the DPRK with seven visits there since 1996. The U.S. State Department stressed that the visit is a private one and will not carry any particular message from the U.S. government.

The DPRK has also agreed to allow the return of UN inspectors following discussions with Richardson, CNN reported on Monday.

"The North agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel to return to a nuclear facility in the country and agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 fresh fuel rods and ship them to an outside country, presumably to South Korea," CNN quoted its reporter Wolf Blitzer as saying, who is traveling with Richardson.

"The fuel rods would be enough to make about six to eight nuclear weapons," CNN said.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in Tokyo on Friday that the nuclear watchdog has an essential role to play on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and is ready to send its inspectors to the DPRK again once an agreement is worked out.

The DPRK stopped cooperation with the IAEA in April last year, requiring the overall withdrawal of its inspectors, as the peninsula's nuclear issue slid again into a deadlock.


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