U.S. politician Bill Richardson is on his way to North Korea on a private diplomatic mission to ease tensions between Pyongyang and South Korea.

Richardson spoke briefly to reporters in Beijing Thursday before boarding a flight to Pyongyang. He said he believes the North Koreans want to give him a message of some kind and that he hopes that message will serve to calm tensions caused by the North's deadly artillery attack on a South Korean island last month,

Richardson said he is acting in a personal capacity and is not carrying any message from the U.S. government. However, formal diplomatic talks on the Korean crisis were planned Thursday in Beijing, where U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is meeting Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo.

Dai, who is considered China's most senior foreign policy-maker, was in Pyongyang last week for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Richardson is a former ambassador to the United Nations and currently is governor of New Mexico. He has also served as secretary of energy with responsibility for the U.S. nuclear program.

He was invited to North Korea by Kim Gye Gwan, the country's chief negotiator in the six-nation negotiations over the North's nuclear program. Like former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, has visited North Korea on previous personal missions and has won a measure of trust from its leaders.

He is hoping to ease tensions prompted by North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, which killed four people, and the sinking of a South Korean warship which killed 46 sailors in March.

The United States and South Korea have responded with a series of joint naval exercises. South Korea has also staged two weeks of live-fire artillery drills around its shores, which end on Friday.