A North Korean delegation held talks Thursday on renewable energy in New Mexico after pushing hard in earlier discussions for one-on-one nuclear talks with the United States.
A spokesman for New Mexico state Governor Bill Richardson, who has been hosting the two North Korean diplomats at his sprawling hacienda overlooking Santa Fe, said meetings were shifting to focus on renewable energy.
Richardson said Wednesday that the message from the North Koreans was that the release of two American reporters to former president Bill Clinton earlier this month merited a change in heart from Washington on the thorny issue of bilateral talks.
Long-time US policy has been to deny North Korea one-on-one meetings and only discuss the hermit state's nuclear program in a six-nation forum consisting of the two Koreas, China, Russia, the United States and Japan.
"The North Koreans obviously used the journalists as a bargaining chip and now they want a gesture in return. What I believe they want in return is, all right, the US is now ready to talk to us directly," Richardson said.
The White House stated clearly that the North Korean mission to New Mexico had not come at the behest of President Barack Obama's administration, while the State Department said Richardson had been given no message to pass on.
"Our goal is very simple and very clear," a State Department spokesman said. "Our goal is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And, of course, we want to see progress toward that."
On Thursday the North Korean diplomats will tour a bio-mass plant and hear from experts at Santa Fe Community College about clean energy initiatives, including wind energy and solar panel technology, the governor's office said.
Richardson described the first day of talks as "productive" and said his impression was that "temperatures have really cooled down since president Clinton's visit."
Clinton's historic August 4 meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was the highest-level contact in a decade and has opened up the chance of renewed diplomatic efforts after months of simmering tension and escalating rhetoric.
Pyongyang abandoned six-party talks and vowed to restart its plutonium-producing program in April after a censure from the UN Security Council for testing a long-range rocket. It went on to stage its second nuclear test on May 25.
The successful Clinton mission has been followed by a flurry of overtures from Pyongyang towards South Korea.
North Korea said Thursday it would remove cross-border restrictions, reopen a rail link and temporarily restore a communication channel with the South this week, officials and media reported.
Kim is also sending a personal wreath with a high-level six-member delegation to arrive in Seoul Friday to pay respects to Kim Dae-Jung, a former South Korean president who died this week.
The two Koreas remain technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
More than 600,000 South Korean soldiers, backed by 28,500 US troops, are deployed in the southern part of the peninsula, confronting a potential threat from the North's 1.1 million-strong military.
Richardson traveled twice to North Korea in the 1990s to secure the release of US prisoners and was last there in April 2007 to bring back the remains of American servicemen killed during the Korean War.
A veteran Democrat, Richardson served as US ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary under Clinton. The prominent Hispanic politician also made a failed bid for the presidency in 2008.
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