Elise Labott and Candy Crowley
Two top North Korean diplomats are traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to hold talks with Gov. Bill Richardson, a U.S. source with knowledge of the visit and a senior State Department official tell CNN.
Kim Myong Gil and Taek Jong Ho, senior diplomats with the North Korean mission to the United Nations, are scheduled for a two-day meeting with Richardson, the sources said.
Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has traveled to North Korea several times in the past, most recently in April 2007 to secure the return of remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War.
The U.S. source with knowledge of the visit said that the North Koreans asked Richardson for the meeting.
Richardson, the source said, would be listening to what the North Koreans had to say, but would not be doing any kind of negotiating.
Part of the agenda will be a discussion of renewable energy, the source said. New Mexico is a leader in the U.S. in exploring renewable energy technologies.
The visit comes on the heels of a trip to North Korea by former President Bill Clinton to gain the release of two American journalists held in Pyongyang.
Obama administration officials had said they hoped the release of the journalists would give North Korea a face-saving opportunity to return to talks aimed at ending its nuclear program.
North Korea has said it would not return to the so-called Six Party Talks with the U.S., South Korea, Japan, Russia and China.
The source said the New Mexico trip could be a signal the North Korean regime was ready to re-engage with the international community.
"The timing is interesting," said the U.S. source. "It's two days. Interesting things can always be said. And any interesting thing can be passed on to the (Obama) administration."
Because of existing sanctions on Pyongyang, North Korean diplomats serving at the mission to the United Nations are limited to travel within a 20-mile radius outside the New York city limits. A senior State Department official told CNN the North Koreans asked for permission to travel to New Mexico, which was granted by the State Department.
But the official would not speculate on whether the visit signaled Pyongyang was ready to re-engage with the United States.
"The North Koreans asked for permission to travel and as in the past, we have said yes," the official said. "But we don't know what they want to talk to Bill Richardson about it. If the North Koreans want to talk, they know who to talk to. They can come back to the six-party process and tell us if they are ready to move toward denuclearization."
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