Dropping in on North Korea

The Obama administration is letting the world know that New Mexico Governor and onetime–presidential hopeful Bill Richardson isn’t traveling to North Korea next week on U.S. government business. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said Richardson would be making a “private visit” and will not be “carrying any particular message from the United States Government.” But Richardson might pop his head into the State Department after he gets back. Crowley said that former-president Jimmy Carter, after his personal visit to the North, paid Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a visit. The spokesman “would expect Governor Richardson to report back after he’s done.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, still in Asia, said that strong “steps must be taken” to make sure Pyongyang stops behaving badly. But Washington must tread very carefully. As Mullen put it, “any actions that are taken . . . have to be done very carefully to make sure that we don’t escalate.” Many of Mullen’s recent comments on North Korea have been aimed at China. And today, North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Il met with a diplomat from Beijing. The Chinese didn’t give much hint of what went during the meeting, but both sides said that they worked on their bilateral relationship.

And in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, surveying progress in the war in the lead-up to the release of a strategy review, said that the situation there “exceeded [his] expectations.” Not only that, but he’s going back to Washington “convinced that our strategy is working.” Gates appeared at a press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.