|Richardson, centre, said he hoped his visit would reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula [Reuters]
The governor of the US state of New Mexico has arrived in North Korea, saying he hoped that he hopes his four-day visit will help ease concerns over the country's nuclear programme and its increasingly beligerent relationship with the South.
Shortly after arriving in Pyongyang, the capital, on Thursday, Bill Richardson told reporters that his "objective is to see if we can reduce the tension on the Korean peninsula, that is my objective.
"I am going to have a whole series of talks with North Korean officials here and I look forward to my discussions," he said.
Richardson has made several previous visits to North Korea, but his latest trip comes amid increasing tensions between the North and South following an exchange of artillery fire three weeks ago, which killed four people on a South Korean island dead.
'Chain reaction' fears
A senior US general on Thursday voiced his concerns over a possible "chain reaction" on the Korean peninsula if another planned military exercise on Yeonpyeong island led to an aggressive response from the North.
General James Cartwright, the vice-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the live-fire exercise was being held on a "well-established and well-used" range in a transparent way, but could draw a North Korean reaction.
"What we worry about obviously is ... if North Korea were to react to that in a negative way and fire back at those firing positions on the islands, that would start potentially a chain reaction," he said.
"What you don't want to have happen out of that is for ... us to lose control of the escalation. That's the concern."
The South's military said its guns would be aimed away from the North, but that it would respond strongly if provoked.
The incident close to the disputed maritime border between the two nations in November was sparked by a South Korean live-fire exercise. The deaths, which included two civilians, brought international condemnation and the US pledged its support for Seoul.
However, the governor made it clear on Thursday that he was not visiting as an official envoy of the US government.
"I am here at the invitation of Mr Kim Kye-gwan, I am not here as a representative of the Obama administration," he said.
Kim Kye Gwan has been North Korea's representative at multi-national talks discussing North Korea's nuclear programmes, and a regular counterpart for US officials in talks with North Korea.
He was recently promoted to the position of first vice-foreign minister.