New Mexico – Gov. Bill Richardson is heading off on his latest unofficial diplomatic mission.
Richardson leaves Tuesday afternoon for North Korea at the invitation of the Pyongyang regime. He returns Dec. 20.
The Democratic governor's private trip comes three weeks after North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing four people.
The State Department says Richardson isn't delivering a message for the U.S. government. However, Richardson's contacts with North Korean officials may provide insights for diplomats trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
This will be Richardson's third trip to North Korea since he became governor in 2003. Richardson's term ends this month.
Richardson served as U.N. ambassador in the Clinton administration.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.