Richardson To Lead N. Korea Delegation

Democratic Presidential hopeful New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is applauded at the Building and Construction Trades Department AFL-CIO's candidate forum, Wednesday, March 28, 2007, in Washington.
Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson will lead a private delegation to North Korea next week to recover the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War, the White House said Tuesday.

Richardson, now governor of New Mexico and the former American ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration, and Anthony Principi, the former veterans affairs secretary in the Bush administration, will be in the North from April 8-11, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

More than 33,000 U.S. troops were killed in the Korean War, which began in June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. U.S. forces intervened on behalf of the South while Chinese forces backed the North.

More than 8,100 U.S. servicemen still are listed as missing from the Korean War.

No other members of the delegation were immediately announced, though the White House said a small number of U.S. officials will accompany the delegation to provide assistance.

The trip comes days before a crucial deadline in a landmark international nuclear agreement the North made in February.

North Korea has pledged that, in return for energy aid and political concessions, it would close down and seal its main nuclear plant by April 14. It also agreed to allow in U.N. nuclear inspectors to certify the shutdown.

Since the Feb. 13 agreement in Beijing, however, there has been little progress. The North is angry about a delayed transfer of $25 million in North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank. Observers worry the spat could delay implementation of the disarmament agreement.