Richardson Stresses Need For Diplomacy In U.S.-North Korean Relations

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Politics

Former New Mexico governor and part-time Chatham resident Bill Richardson spoke at St. Christopher's Church Wednesday. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

CHATHAM – “Little rocket man.” “The dotard.”

Prior to the summit in Singapore last month between North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, the pair exchanged insults. Is this good diplomacy?

No, said Gov. Bill Richardson, a part-time Chatham resident, during a talk Wednesday.

“I’m a traditional diplomat, I’m a dull person. I just don’t believe in insults,” Richardson said. “Diplomacy is the only option.”

He defined diplomacy as “relationships, talking to people, knowing cultures.”

Speaking on “What’s Next After the US-North Korea Summit?” Richardson addressed a standing-room-only crowd at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church. The talk was sponsored by the Friends of the Eldredge Public Library. Richardson, 70, served as the Democratic governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2011. He began his political career in 1982 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He later served as U.S Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration. Today he is a frequent contributor to CNN and Fox News, commuting through the summer traffic to a TV studio in Woods Hole.

Richardson said he has traveled to North Korea eight times as a negotiator. His main issue has been the recovery of the remains of political prisoners and of the 5,000 or so soldiers missing after the Korean War in 1950 to 1953. And while he stays in safe houses and is allowed to speak only to V.I.P.s, he has nevertheless formed an impression of the North Korean people.

“They’re constantly in a siege mentality,” he said. They believe they’re right all the time; their authority comes from Kim and from his late father, Kim Jong Il. Richardson summed this up as “the cult of personality.”

North Korean television is under state control, and the people have a “very closed mentality.” They are intelligent but isolated. A person in North Korea earns a maximum of $20 a month. And for the North Koreans, “we are the enemy,” Richardson said.

Richardson has never met Kim, although he once shook hands with Kim’s father. It is known that Kim is 34, speaks English “very haltingly,” and may speak French after his studies in Switzerland. He likes western things such as basketball but is “ruthless in wanting to keep his power,” Richardson said. He killed his brother and other members of this family.

“Is he a good man? Probably not,” Richardson said. “Can he be trusted? No.”

Yet after the summit, Richardson said tension in the area has been lowered. “This is the [least] tension that I’ve ever seen in the region.” While he credits Trump for that easing of tension, he asks, “where are the deliverables?”

The North Koreans have between 20 and 60 nuclear missiles which are capable of hitting Guam, Hawaii and Alaska, if not yet the continental United States. Our country’s aim at the summit was to get full, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. This means that North Korea should dismantle and destroy its weapons.

North Korea’s goals included the meeting itself, putting Kim on a par with Trump, and also an assurance that, as Kim might word it, “you’re not going to try to knock me off, right?” In other words, no change will be made to the regime. In the end, Kim got the optics of the meeting and also convinced Trump to cancel the military exercises in South Korea. Trump got an easing of tension.

The bottom line is that Richardson does not believe that North Korea wants to denuclearize. Yet he says the United States has a 60/40 chance to bring the North Koreans to a “middle ground.”

And as for the remains of the soldiers, seven were brought back under President George W. Bush. The U.S. continues to negotiate for the remains of the rest. In the past, North Korea has asked for $70,000 per remains. “Hopefully they’re turned over in a dignified way,” Richardson said.

Overall, Richardson believes that Kim wants to modernize his economy and improve the country’s infrastructure. He is “still an enigma, still dangerous.” Trump’s relations with Kim “could define the foreign policy of this presidency,” Richardson said.

After his 35-minute talk, Richardson responded to questions for about 30 minutes. When asked about Trump’s recent trade war with China, Richardson noted that China is key when it comes to sanctioning North Korea. Yet “we’re ticking China off with this trade war,” he said. “I wish I could have a minute with the president and say, ‘you might want to wait a little with this.’”

When asked a question about Russia’s interest in North Korea, Richardson said it is related to the eight miles of border that the two countries share in a port. As for Russia’s role in the 2016 election, Richardson was emphatic. “Did they [Russia] interfere in our election? They sure did,” he said.

In response to a question from the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill’s daughter Rosemary O’Neill, Richardson said that no matter their differences, O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan would often enjoy a Scotch together at the end of the day and resolve issues.

“Those were the days and I think we need to come back to that,” he said.