North Korea invites Bill Richardson to visit: What message is it sending?
Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the UN, has been invited to visit North Korea by the nation's top nuclear negotiator. It could be a bid to avoid confrontation after weeks of tensions.
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Richardson’s last trip to Pyongyang was in 2007, when he returned with the remains of US servicemen killed in the Korean War.Skip to next paragraph
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The State Department was emphatic this week that Richardson’s visit in no way constitutes US government business, underscoring the US position that official diplomatic engagement with the North will only resume once the North’s provocations cease and it recommits to serious negotiations on its nuclear program.
But at the same time, officials say they expect the usual pattern of “high-level visitors” to the North reporting back to Washington to be followed in this case.
“President Carter … debriefed the secretary [of State] in the aftermath of his visit,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley this week. “I would expect Governor Richardson to report back after he’s done,” he said, adding that the governor “will not be carrying a message from the United States Government.”
MIT’s Professor Walsh says the North Koreans have often used such private visits to divulge information they want to get out. For example, last month Stanford University Prof. Siegfried Hecker reported on a tour he was given of a secret and previously undisclosed uranium enrichment facility at the North’s Yongbyon nuclear complex. That disclosure was widely interpreted as an attempt by the North to convince the US of the urgency of returning to dialogue.
During his 2005 visit, Walsh says the North Koreans told him of their willingness to return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In the past, the North Koreans seem to have invited a “flurry of visitors” in anticipation of a return to the so-called six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia, and Japan, and focused on the North’s nuclear program, Walsh says. Either that, or the visits have signaled “the beginning of a return to reaching out to the outside world,” he says.
“On the face of it, this doesn’t appear to fit that pattern,” Walsh says, given the North’s shelling of a South Korean island last month. But he adds that North Korean officials may have “made the calculation that, at the end of the day, the other countries will say, what else can we do” but return to dialogue?
The Richardson visit may be their way of testing their own speculation.