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Ex-Envoy's Calls for North Korea Nuclear Testing Freeze Poorly Timed: U.S.

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- A former top U.S. diplomat has picked a poor time to make a personal appeal for North Korea to cease testing nuclear devices and missiles, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.

One-time U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson is in the pariah country this week as part of a private nine-member delegation that includes senior Google executives. The group's stated aims are to encourage a curb on nuclear weapons development, improved treatment of an imprisoned U.S. citizen, and increased access to the Web and cellular technology for North Korean citizens.

"The delegation has had three messages: first, a moratorium on missile launches and no nuclear test,” Richardson said in a Wednesday interview with the Associated Press in Pyongyang. "Secondly, the American detainee [Kenneth Bae]: treat him properly, give him proper justice. And then third, expand the Internet, expand cell phones.”

Though the former New Mexico governor has previously gone on troubleshooting trips to North Korea, successfully negotiating the release of U.S. prisoners there, his latest trip does not have the blessing of the Obama administration.

Asked at a press briefing whether the State Department was supportive of Richardson's calls to the North Koreans for a testing moratorium, Nuland said,  “We continue to have the same view about this visit that we’ve had all the way along -- that the timing is not good."

The United States is frustrated over North Korea’s continued flouting of U.N. Security Council resolutions that bar it from using ballistic missile technology. In December, the aspiring nuclear power for the first time ever successfully sent a long-range rocket into space -- an impressive technological feat that also indicates progress in the development of an ICBM.

Issue observers believe Pyongyang will attempt to capitalize on Richardson's trip by putting on a show of being ready to return to diplomatic engagement with the United States. The two sides in February reached a deal to freeze some of the North's sensitive activities, only to see the agreement collapse in the wake of a botched April launch of another North Korean long-range rocket.

While the Obama administration believes the trip is “not helpful,” when the delegation returns “obviously if they have information to share, we’ll be interested in it,” Nuland said.

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