Gov. Richardson: Signs of Thawing in North Korea
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're going to talk about the North Korean discussions with Bill Richardson. He is governor of New Mexico, a former United Nations ambassador and last month served as an envoy to the North Koreans. And he's on the line.
Governor, welcome to the program.
Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico): Thank you, Steve. Nice to be with you.
INSKEEP: Can you describe the tone or the attitude of the North Koreans you met with?
Gov. RICHARDSON: The tone was good. They mistrust the United States but for the first time, I sensed a little bit of thawing. They had signed a statement of principles in which they committed to eliminate their nuclear weapons in exchange for food, fuel and no attack clause. The issue is a civilian light water reactor, which they want for peaceful purposes, which the Bush administration does not want them to have. So there's a lot of negotiating to do to make this statement of principles signed by the six-party countries a reality.
INSKEEP: Well, I want to ask what happened here, because the administration had been talking to the North Koreans. They announced an agreement, although many details had to be worked out. You went and talked to them in October and you say that things seemed to be going well. The two sides then formally met this month, had three days of talks and made absolutely no progress on the details as far as anyone can tell.
Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, I always said that at this next meeting, the one that just concluded, there would be no agreement. But what they did come out with is an understanding, one, that they will meet again in January; two, that they will set up working groups on disarmament, on energy assistance and I believe that will be a step towards negotiating what is called the sequencing. Who goes first? Do the North Koreans go first and start dismantling the Yongbyon nuclear facility, or do the six-party countries give them assistance first? Those are issues that need to be negotiated, but at least the tension is reduced. This is going to take some time, but at least we're talking.
INSKEEP: Governor, you mentioned that light water reactor. Do you believe that North Korea can be trusted with a civilian nuclear reactor?
Gov. RICHARDSON: No, they can't be trusted, so what we need to have is a very strong verification effort.
INSKEEP: When it comes to verifying an agreement, what can be done this time around, if anything, that the North Koreans would agree to that would be better than the verification agreement from a decade ago that the North Koreans violated?
Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, for instance, when they talked about civilian nuclear reactor, the North Koreans told me they were ready to have to US participate in the front end and back end of the fuel cycle, that they were ready to have the six-party countries participate in the verification, that they were willing to have IAEA inspectors. So they are ready, I believe. In fact, they mentioned to me on the civilian light water reactor they were ready to accept almost anything, indicates that with good negotiating, they are ready to make a deal. The question is who goes first, the sequencing, some very difficult issues to negotiate. I believe North Korea has concluded that it's in their best interest to make a deal and come out of isolation, get a market economy, have their people fed. And that's my conclusion.
INSKEEP: Governor, I want to ask you about another subject, if I might. You have put out a book, an autobiography. It talks about your political career. You've been talking to insiders here in Washington. All of it raises questions about, well, whether you think that, say, a Southwestern governor ought to be the Democratic presidential nominee next time around.
Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, I'm going to repeat to you what I tell everybody, but seemingly no one takes it seriously because politicians don't have much credibility. But again, I am going to run for re-election. I have a lot to do as governor of New Mexico. I'm outlining a very broad children's agenda in the next few days. And then after '06, I'm going to take a look at what I'm going to do and I'm going to be very candid with my constituents. But I've made no decision. I have to be re-elected first.
INSKEEP: The Washington Post quoted you telling people in Washington that you're running. Were you misquoted?
Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, that was guests talking to the newspaper and I stand behind what I just told you.
INSKEEP: But you would not be promising not to run if you were re-elected governor of New Mexico.
Gov. RICHARDSON: That's right. That's right. No, no. I'm keeping all options open.
INSKEEP: What does the next Democratic nominee have to have in this circumstance, this historical circumstance, in order to win in 2008?
Gov. RICHARDSON: Well, the Democratic candidate, I believe, has to appeal in the West and the South and the Midwest. We can't just be regional candidates or a regional party. Secondly, I believe the Democratic candidate has to be an effective manager, somebody that's balanced budgets. Third, I believe somebody that can talk about values and national security and what we're going to do about changing the direction of this country and taking the country back. I would say those three elements are key.
INSKEEP: Bill Richardson is governor of New Mexico.
Governor, thanks very much.
Gov. RICHARDSON: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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