PYONGYANG, North Korea — Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico met for more than an hour on Friday morning with North Korea’s vice minister for American affairs, the first stop on a five-day private visit he said was aimed at conveying concerns about North Korean provocations and reducing tensions on the peninsula.
Mr. Richardson said that the vice minister, Ri Yong-ho, indicated that the North was anxious about the mounting hostilities in the region, and that that was “a good sign.” But Mr. Richardson cautioned that Friday’s meeting was a preliminary discussion, and that progress, if there was any, would become evident only near the end of his trip.
The latest inter-Korean crisis erupted less than a month ago when the North fired an artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians there. On Friday, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general and a South Korean citizen, called the attack “one of the gravest provocations since the end of the Korean War.”
Mr. Richardson met with Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, on Saturday for almost two hours. “Even though I had a good meeting with Kim Kye-gwan, the situation is extremely tense.” he said. “I urged the North Koreans to exercise maximum self-restraint, but this is a time when both sides — all sides — should show restraint. I put forward a series of proposals to calm things down.”
The meeting seemed to start on a testy note when Mr. Kim told Mr. Richardson, who had delayed his visit at the request of the White House, “I was always suspicious as to whether there is a true democracy in the United States, which boasts of human rights, because even your visit to the D.P.R.K.” was delayed.
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