SANTA FE, New Mexico (CNN) - North Korea believes it's owed bilateral talks with the United States after the communist government released two detained American journalists this month, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday after meeting with two North Korean diplomats.
"They feel, the North Koreans, that by giving us the two American journalists that they've made an important gesture," Richardson said on CNN's "Situation Room." "And now they're saying the ball's in our court."
The visit comes on the heels of a trip to the communist nation by former President Bill Clinton to gain the release of the two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling. During the visit Clinton met with reclusive leader Kim Jong Il, whose government is under U.N. sanctions for its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons program.
"They do feel they are owed a gesture on the U.S. part," Richardson said, adding, "I don't believe that should be the case because this was a
humanitarian gesture that needed to happen."
The North Korean diplomats felt Clinton's trip, while a humanitarian one, helped "thaw relations" and gave North Korea "international prestige,"
The governor has stressed that he is not serving as a negotiator, and that he is going to relay the information from the diplomats to the White
He added that the North Koreans are interested only in direct talks with U.S. officials, such as special envoy Stephen Bosworth, and has no plans to return to the six-party talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
"They don't like the six-party talks, they felt that it's produced sanctions on them," Richardson said. "They want a new format - and the format they want is direct talks with the United States."
There was no immediate reaction from the Obama administration.
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.
Kim Myong Gil and Taek Jong Ho, senior diplomats with the North Korean mission to the United Nations, left New York on Tuesday for two days of meetings with Richardson.
Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has traveled to North Korea several times, most recently in April 2007 to secure the return of the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War.
He said the North Korean officials approached him with the idea of meeting.
"I detected for the first time ... a lessening of tension, some positive vibrations," Richardson said, comparing Wednesday's meeting with the many others he's engaged in with the North Koreans.
On Thursday, the two diplomats will talk with Richardson about renewable energy initiatives, Richardson aide Gilbert Gallegos said. New Mexico is a leader in the United States in exploring renewable energy technologies.
–CNN's Paul Vercammen, Elise Labott and Candy Crowley contributed to this report