U.S.-Korea Meeting Could Pay Dividends, Bill Richardson Says

Mar 12, 2018
Originally published on March 12, 2018 6:40 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump has not given us many clues as to what he'll tell North Korea's leader in an upcoming meeting. This past weekend, Trump appeared at a rally in Pennsylvania. It was his first public appearance since accepting the offer from Kim Jong Un.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: South Korea came to my office after having gone to North Korea and seeing Kim Jong Un and...

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TRUMP: No, it's very positive, no. After the meeting you may do that, but now we have to be very nice because let's see what happens.

KING: Let's see what happens. Well, we have someone with us who has been in talks with the North Koreans. As a congressman in the 1990s, Bill Richardson negotiated with a North Korean delegation. He's also served as a governor of New Mexico and as a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Good morning, Governor.

BILL RICHARDSON: Good morning.

KING: So, Governor, in an op-ed over the weekend, you wrote that this planned meeting could pay dividends if President Trump takes a careful approach. As a man with many years of diplomatic experience under his belt, what constitutes a careful approach here?

RICHARDSON: Well, first, that he be prepared, that he will be well-briefed, that he assemble a team that he does not have yet that develops a strategy. I mean, the secretary of state was unaware of his decision to accept the meeting, which I believe made sense; secondly, that we not go in thinking the North Koreans are going to be easy. They're disciplined. They have an agenda. They don't think like we do. And it's very important that we not raise expectations, and that's my biggest worry. The North Koreans are not going to completely denuclearize. I think this is going to be a process that takes a long time. But I think we should have realistic expectations. It makes sense to me because we can talk about curbing their nuclear and missile use, their exports of nuclear and missile materials.

My biggest worry right now is the fact that the president has to decide on the Iran deal, whether we stay in or not, on May 12. And my worry is if we abandon the Iran deal, which is not perfect - which is not perfect because Iran needs to do a lot of steps curbing terrorism - that the North Koreans are saying, well, how can we make a deal with an American president if years later he pulls out of it, he pulls the plug?

KING: Yeah.

RICHARDSON: So those are my concerns.

KING: North Korea will obviously be watching that very carefully. I wonder, you know, the U.S. doesn't have an ambassador in South Korea. The senior State Department official for North Korea policy recently retired. How much - you said the president needs a team. How much of a problem is it that he doesn't seem to have one or that he seems to be missing some key players here?

RICHARDSON: Well, it is a big problem because you need Asia, North Korea, Korean Peninsula specialists. We don't have an ambassador in South Korea. We don't have a lead negotiator. I believe it should be the secretary of state, the national security adviser, secretary of defense. They should assemble a team that not just briefs the president but - we've really got about two months before this summit - that lays out a path towards a negotiation that is going to take several years, that is going to be on a number of technical nuclear activities but also other issues relating to the Korean Peninsula. We have to have a unified position with South Korea, with Japan. I think South Korea has been very helpful as a arbiter of this diplomacy, as somebody that's mediated. But Japan is nervous. China has to be brought in. I think they've been helpful in terms of the sanctions.

But at the same time, I think the president should stop trying to score political points. Obama, Clinton, Bush all did good things with North Korea. They put the sanctions in place. They reached agreements. The problem was North Korea violated these agreements. So he should bring in the former presidents and talk to them and consult. It can't just be shooting from the hip. It just can't be finding ways to tweet and provoke. I like the statements he made at the rally last night about North Korea. He was restrained. He was cautious. That's good.

KING: He said it's very positive, yeah.

RICHARDSON: So I hope he keeps that, but I worry because we don't have our act together in terms of the policy. We don't have the team. And those North Koreans, they're tough. They know what they want. I think Kim Jong Un - the good news is that he has reached this military capacity, so he's ready to negotiate. I think sanctions have bitten the country, and he's ready to move on that. And the best part is South Korea's diplomacy. I mean, they're the ones that brought us together.

KING: You're obviously a great believer in diplomacy. It has worked throughout your career. Let me ask you a question about restraint. President Trump has a history of aggressive talk about Kim Jong Un on Twitter and at his rallies. Do you think that North Korea will use that to advantage in negotiating - to its advantage in negotiating this meeting? I mean, President Trump hasn't always been nice to Kim Jong Un. Does that matter?

RICHARDSON: It does matter. The North Koreans are very sensitive to insults. I would stop the tweeting, the talking about nuclear buttons, fury. Just be diplomatic. Just let his negotiators take the lead, develop a coherent strategy and stop all this bedlam and these very, very strong statements and use diplomacy.

KING: Thank you so much, Governor Bill Richardson.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

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