North Korean officials have guaranteed that they will unconditionally attend the next round of six-party nuclear disarmament talks next month, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson said Friday after several days of talks in Pyongyang.
Richardson, speaking in Tokyo, said that the North Koreans also were committed to returning to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and would invite International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei to the reclusive country to discuss inspections of nuclear facilities.
The governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico, who was in Pyongyang from Monday until Thursday, said the North Korean government displayed a more positive attitude toward the United States and greater transparency about its nuclear activities.
"There is still mistrust ... but I believe the conditions for negotiation have improved," said Richardson, who was in North Korea from Monday until Thursday at the invitation of Pyongyang. "I've been following this issue for the past 15 years, and I believe right now the atmosphere is the best that I've seen in my 15 years."
Richardson said while he was in North Korea he toured its Yongbyon nuclear facility and spoke with the plant's director. He said the North Koreans were open and cooperative in answering questions, telling him the reactor was refueled in April and indicating they had reprocessed all the spent fuel into plutonium.
Richardson said he urged the North Koreans to shut down the reactor while six-party talks continue as a goodwill gesture, the AP says.
The most recent round of six-nation nuclear talks ended last month with North Korea pledging to abandon its nuclear program, which it claims has already yielded weapons. The next round of talks, which involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States, is scheduled for November but no date has been set.
Richardson said that he pressed his hosts about the number of nuclear weapons they had produced, but that he got no clear answer.
"They've stated that they have them in the past. My sense was two (bombs), perhaps, that's my sense," he said. "I pressed, but that's the best I got, but I can't verify that."
The New Mexico governor also said that he detected some flexibility on the part of the North Koreans over their demand for a light-water nuclear reactor to help them with their serious energy needs.
The United States has so far resisted discussing that issue until the North gives up its nuclear weapons program. Richardson said government officials in Pyongyang said they would be willing to allow international supervision of the proposed reactor to guarantee that none of the spent fuel is diverted to weapons production.