New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, visiting North Korea again amid heightened tensions with its southern neighbor, was to begin a series of meetings Friday with senior diplomats in the reclusive communist country. But a war of words raged on as the North's official news agency denounced a South Korean plan to stage an artillery exercise on a disputed island in the Yellow Sea.
Television footage showed Richardson -- ambassador to the U.N. under former President Clinton -- arriving in Pyongyang and being greeted by an official, saying in English, "So nice to see you," the New York Times
But away from the tarmac niceties, North Korean news outlets ramped up the rhetoric and name-calling. "The puppet warmongers are contemplating staging madcap naval firing exercises," the news agency KCNA said. It called the South Korean defense minister "a war maniac keen to ignite war."
Richardson, who has traveled to North Korea three times in the past seven years, said before leaving on his latest venture he hoped he could get government officials there to "calm down a bit."
The current crisis broke out three weeks ago when North Korean artillery opened fire and killed four South Koreans on Yeonpyeong Island, where the North disputes a northern borderline between the two hostile lands. "If war breaks out," North Korea's official website Uriminzokkiri warned Friday, "it will lead to nuclear warfare and not be limited to the Korean Peninsula." The commentary was cited by the South Korean news agency, Yonhap, the Times said.
Richardson made the trip with the approval of the State Department, but he is not on an official mission and is not carrying a message from the U.S. government. Richardson, accompanied by CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, hoped to visit the Yongbyon nuclear facility during the visit, the JoongAng Daily
, a South Korea English edition newspaper, reported.