Page last updated at 01:42 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 02:42 UK

N Korea sends US 'good signals'

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson with North Korean delegate Myong Gil-kim in Santa Fe (19 August 2009)
Mr Richardson said he had detected a "lessening of tensions"

North Korea has sent "good signals" that it wants to restart dialogue with the US over its nuclear programme, a US politician has said.

Governor Bill Richardson's comments came after rare talks in his state of New Mexico with North Korean envoys.

Mr Richardson said he had detected a "lessening of tension" since former US President Bill Clinton's recent visit to Pyongyang.

But he said North Korea still refused to return to multilateral talks.

In a statement after the talks in Santa Fe, Mr Richardson said the delegation had indicated North Korea was "ready for a new dialogue with the United States regarding the nuclear issue".

He said the recent visit by Mr Clinton to North Korea, to secure to the release of two US journalists, had "helped thaw relations".

Pyongyang had "obviously used the journalists as a bargaining chip" and was now seeking a "gesture" in return, Mr Richardson said.

"The North Koreans are sending good signals, that they're ready to talk directly to the United States," he said.

"I detected for the first time a lessening of tension, some positive vibration".

Talks questions

But Mr Richardson said North Korea was still not prepared to return to the six-party talks about its nuclear programme.

It withdrew from the talks - which involve the two Koreas, the US, Russia, China and Japan - after the UN Security Council imposed sanctions following its nuclear and missile tests.

The US has said it is willing to hold direct talks with the North within the six-party process if it returns to the negotiating table and takes irreversible steps towards denuclearisation.

"The North Koreans clearly want bilateral talks and not the six-party framework," said Mr Richardson.

"The question is whether to proceed with face-to-face bilateral talks, as the North Koreans prefer, or to utilise the six-party framework that the United States has advocated."

North Korea's diplomacy is, correspondents say, following a familiar pattern - first belligerence: the walkouts and flaunting of military muscle, followed by a return to diplomacy and demands for further concessions.

In Washington, the White House said it had not arranged the meeting and that Mr Richardson had not been given any messages to pass on to North Korean delegates Kim Myong-gil and Paek Jong-hoin

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the US aim on North Korea remained "very simple and very clear".

"Our goal is the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. And, of course, we want to see progress toward that," he said.

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