US politician hopes for 'positive' Pyongyang trip

Former US governor Bill Richardson said Friday he hopes to assess what is happening in North Korea under its new leader Kim Jong-Un during what he hopes will be a "positive" visit.

Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson speaks at a dinner in Washington on May 5, 2011. Richardson said Friday he hopes to assess what is happening in North Korea under its new leader Kim Jong-Un during what he hopes will be a "positive" visit.

He also dismissed US government concerns over the planned trip to Pyongyang with Google chairman Eric Schmidt, which he said would be "wide-ranging."

Although it was "very doubtful" he would meet with Kim, who took over after his father died in December 2011, Richardson told CNN he would be able to "talk to a number of North Korean officials" and see the reclusive country's humanitarian situation for himself.

He stressed he and Schmidt would be traveling as private citizens, representing neither the US government nor Internet giant Google.

"We will make an assessment and see what comes of our visit. I think it will be positive," he added to CNN, without confirming when they would leave.

Richardson was last in Pyongyang in 2010 when he met North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator in an attempt to ease tensions after the North shelled a South Korean border island.

He acknowledged Friday that the situation on the Korean peninsula remained tense and that he was getting "mixed messages" about Pyongyang's intentions after the North angered the West in December by launching a rocket.

"These launches the North Koreans have undertaken are not conducive to negotiations and the international community's feeling of comfort with discussing issues with North Korea," Richardson told CNN.

"It seems that the new leader is trying to strengthen himself domestically with his own people."

December's successful long-range rocket launch by the North was slammed by the US and the international community as a disguised ballistic missile test banned under UN resolutions triggered by past nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and a veteran troubleshooter on North Korea, acknowledged that "the State Department is a little nervous."

But he told CBS television the two man had already once postponed the trip, which he said was linked to North Korea's arrest and planned prosecution of a US citizen of Korean descent, Kenneth Bae.

"Eric and I were going in December, and at the request of the State Department, we postponed it because of the South Korean presidential elections," he said.

"We're not representing the State Department, so they shouldn't be that nervous," he insisted, saying that the men were planning a private mission to urge Bae's release.

The United States has criticized the visit, saying it was ill-timed in the wake of Pyongyang's widely condemned rocket launch last month.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Friday refused to confirm whether US officials had persuaded the men against making the trip in December.

"I don't think we're going to be sharing any further details about our discussion with them, except to make it clear that they are well aware of our views of this," she told journalists.

Richardson told CBS he had been contacted by Bae's son "who wants to get him released," and highlighted his past successful efforts at negotiating with Pyongyang.

Nuland noted that Washington was working with Sweden, which represents US interests in North Korea, "to try to help our American citizen."

Richardson said he had invited Schmidt to join the trip because "he's interested in foreign policy, he's a friend of mine, and I felt that it was important that there be a broader perspective of our visit."

Pyongyang has in the past agreed to hand over detainees to high-profile delegations led by the likes of former US president Bill Clinton, and some observers suggested it may have requested Schmidt's participation in this case.

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