Traveling as a private citizen, not a government representative, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico was on his way late Tuesday to North Korea
, where he will talk to officials about the recently-escalated military standoff with South Korea.
"My objective is to try and to get the North Koreans to calm down a bit see if we can reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula," Richardson told Albuquerque's KRQE-TV
before boarding a plane to Pyongyang.
The trip, announced last week, is privately funded and Richardson is not carrying a message from the U.S. State Department. The United States will not engage in direct diplomatic relations with North Korea until the communist nation takes steps to dismantle its nuclear program.
A Richardson spokesperson told The New Mexico Independent
last week the outgoing governor was personally invited by North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator.
Richardson said he plans on speaking with the Obama administration after he returns on Dec. 20. The White House has not commented on the unofficial diplomatic mission.
"I am increasingly concerned with the recent actions by the North Koreans, which have raised tensions and are contributing to instability on the Korean Peninsula," Richardson said in a Dec. 8 statement obtained by the Independent. "I am traveling as a private citizen with considerable experience in dealing with the North Koreans."
Richardson, who served as ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, has traveled to North Korea on a number of occasions.
In the past seven years he made three separate trips to try to dissuade North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. In 1996, he helped secure the release of American Evan Hunziker, who was charged with espionage by Pyongyang. He has also worked to retrieve the remains of U.S. service members who killed during the Korean War.
Last year, he welcomed North Korean diplomats to New Mexico.
Richardson's trip comes three weeks after North Korea fired
on a South Korean island in the Yellow Sea, killing two South Korean soldiers. South Korea returned fire.
The exchange led the South Korean military to issue its highest peacetime alert.
Tensions between the two nations rose after North Korea showed a visiting American scientist, Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker, a new uranium enrichment plant that it had built in secret.
In an interview with The New York Times, Hecker said he saw "hundreds and hundreds" of centrifuges operated from "an ultra-modern control room."