Gov. Bill Richardson on North Korea's Nuclear Weapons

Gov. Bill Richardson on North Korea's Nuclear Weapons

By The Situation Room - August 19, 2009

SUZANNE MALVEAUX: Breaking news also in the standoff over North Korea nuclear weapons' program. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been meeting with two of the country's top diplomats. Governor, what can you tell us about your talks? What do the North Koreans want?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, first, the North Koreans are sending good signals that they're ready to talk directly to the United States. They felt President Clinton's visit was good, that it helped thaw relations, make them easier.

They did feel that getting the two American journalists out was a gesture on their part. They mentioned several other gestures they've made recently, the release of the South Korean detainee. And so, I detected for the first time -- and I've been meeting with Minister Kim, who's the top U.N. diplomat -- a lessening of tension, some positive vibration. The fact that they're ready to have a dialogue again. But the issue is should that dialogue be in the context of the six-party talks which the United States wants with the other Asian countries or bilaterally as the North Koreans want, directly U.S./North Korea.

MALVEAUX: Did they tell you they were willing at the very least to go back to the six-party talks and to begin renegotiating in that form, that the United States, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, has preferred?

RICHARDSON: No. They don't like the six-party talks. They felt that it's produced sanctions on them. They want a new format. And the format they want is direct talks with the United States. Now, maybe a compromise might be some kind of direct talks within the six party format. But, again, this is something that diplomats should negotiate. I'm not negotiating on behalf of the Obama administration.

They called me, the State Department approved the visit. They've come here three times before. I know Minister Kim well. We're going to meet some more this afternoon and then tomorrow. So, maybe there will be a little more. But the good news is I detected a lessening of tension, good vibrations.

The Clinton visit helped. They feel, the North Koreans, that by giving us the two American journalists, that they've made an important gesture. And now they're saying the ball's in our court. That's in essence what I got from the first meeting this morning.

MALVEAUX: Do you feel like they've conveyed that the U.S. owes them anything, that they have expectations from this Obama administration now?

RICHARDSON: Well, they do feel that they are owed a gesture on the U.S. part. I don't believe that should be the case because this is a humanitarian gesture that needed to happen. These were two American journalists. They were only doing their job. They suffered for several months, and they were released thanks to some very good diplomacy by the Obama administration.

But the North Koreans obviously used the journalists as a bargaining chip and now they want a gesture in return. What I believe they want in return is, all right, the U.S. is now ready to talk directly, maybe substitute the six-party talks for bilateral talks, but this is something the U.S. is going to have to decide in some tough bargaining. This is why I mentioned that perhaps within the six-party talks, the Asian countries, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, the U.S., that there been bilateral talks by the U.S. and North Korea within those talks.

But you first have to get together. There first has to be a dialogue. And I think the North Koreans are...

MALVEAUX: Who do they want to talk to, governor? Do they want to talk specifically with former Bill Clinton? Are they asking to speak with the current president, Obama? RICHARDSON: No. They're ready to talk to our designee, our Ambassador Bosworth, our special envoy. They're leaving it up to the U.S. on who should they talk to. They didn't place any conditions, and that's good news. I think they felt that the high level visit of President Clinton, although as a humanitarian, unofficial visit, gave them international prestige.

And I think it did. And it took somebody of the stature of President Clinton to get the two journalists out, and this credit should go to President Obama and his team that realized that this was the only way to get them out.

MALVEAUX: And, governor, are they specifically talking about nuclear negotiations here, a willingness to take a look at their program and perhaps give up their nuclear ambitions? Is that what they are talking act when they say we want one-on-one talks?

RICHARDSON: Well, they said that everything would be on the table -- security issues, normalization issues. But, look, they're very tough bargainers. Previous administrations have tried before, nuclear agreements in exchange for them giving up their nuclear weapons. They get food, aid, energy. That hasn't worked.

So, there's probably going to be a need for a new format, not just in terms of negotiating but also the issues. But I think the important thing, because the relationship has been so negative for the last two years, it's just sitting together and talking, dialogue, diplomacy, because it's in both our countries' interest for North Korea to end their nuclear weapons, to have stability in Asia and to improve the situation of the North Korean people.

MALVEAUX: And governor, last quick question, I know you have more talks and this will continue. But did they you any indication that they are willing to compromise, willing to pull back on their nuclear program? Was that something they had offered or said they were willing in some ways to change? Have you gotten to that point?

RICHARDSON: No, no, and they wouldn't bring that up with me. This is up to the two governments. I'm sort of a liaison here, but they know me. I've dealt with them over the years, and they asked to see me. So, I will convey back to the administration what they said.

But the negotiating on the hard stuff like reduction of nuclear weapons, termination, some kind of an agreement, which is in our interests, getting them to stop exporting their nuclear material has to be handled by our diplomat, and we have some very good ones, especially Ambassador Bosworth.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you very much, Governor Bill Richardson, for joining us in here THE SITUATION ROOM.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

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