The Bush administration says it has cleared the way for a meeting between diplomats from North Korea's mission to the United Nations and former President Bill Clinton's diplomatic trouble-shooter Bill Richardson, who's now the New Mexico state governor.
Officials here say the North Koreans initiated the contact with Governor Richardson, who then called Secretary of State Colin Powell and gained his permission for the diplomats to travel from New York to New Mexico.
It's understood that the North Koreans are carrying a message, possibly a response to the U.S. offer for talks contained in a joint U.S.-South Korean-Japanese policy statement Tuesday.
At a briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration is anxious to hear whether Pyongyang is ready to undo nuclear steps since October that have drawn international condemnation.
Mr.Boucher said, "We'll see what they have to communicate to Governor Richardson. If it is a more thought-out response, if it does indicate that they're prepared to promptly and verifiably dismantle their nuclear enrichment program, then it would be interesting. If it's not, it's not. If it is, it is."
Mr. Boucher said the Bush White House is not upset that the North Koreans have reached out to a figure from the Clinton administration, saying what they have to say is more important than who they say it to.