On Christmas Eve 2010, fresh from his return from the DPRK, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson appeared for a 7 minute interview on PBS' [Public Broadcasting Service] award winning 'NewsHour'. Interviewed by the imperturbable senior correspondent Margaret Warner, the outgoing New Mexico governor appeared slightly edgy.
Introduced as having visited North Korea 16 times in the last 17 years, Richardson straightaway summed up his impression after 4 days in Pyongyang that 'tensions were the highest and feelings the most negative' he had even seen. What worried him the most was that the political and military unrest had the very dangerous potential for miscalculation leading to warfare. And his remarks and observations, should account for something in determining US policy towards Korea. But will they?
His ill ease is understandable in the light of the exchange of live fire between the South and the North, owing to the ROK's adventurous naval drills, ably assisted by the US, along the NLL [Northern Limit Line]North Korea's territorial waters.
As GuamDiary has observed, Richardson's presence in Pyongyang put a damper on South Korea's president Lee Myung bak's vindictive, single minded punishment of North Korea.[See, 'North Korea pragmatic, the US and South Korea irrational'] To the governor, he found the newer policy makers - civil and military - 'more pragmatic' and, in private, more open to suggestions for moving from the dead centre of the current status quo.
Propelled by the danger of an 'unacceptable danger' of a re ignited Korean War. Richardson is saying that it is time to seize this opportunity to talk to North Korea. As a self defined 'citizen diplomat', invited by the Kim Jong il regime,he did note that he was the first American to meet with North Koreans in the last 6 months. This, he thinks, is unacceptable. And, by inference the use of 'private citizens' to do the job of what the US government should be doing, this slick 'pis aller' is inadequate.
Richardson put on the table some 'arms control suggestions' which the North Koreans appeared to be open to, as GuamDiary wrote: a hotline, inviting back IAEA [International Atomic Engery Agency] monitors, and the sale of used enriched plutonium spent fuel rods to South Korea that would resell them to a third party, notably to the US.
Warner kept coming back to the oft repeated US mantra: Can we trust North Korea?
The North Koreans are doing nothing to show good faith. [Had Warner done her homework, she would have found a paper trail of North Korea's willingness to talk to the US. They remain ignored or unheard.]
Richardson, at this point in the interview, seemed more nervous. We know that he tilts towards talks with North Korea, which he very well might have counseled the Obama administration to do, but even such a modest suggestion as this might endanger a future post in the Obama administration? It, surely, goes against the grain of the war party in the White House, the department of State, and the Pentagon.
He is honest or quick enough to recognise that within the US government he found a confusion of opinion with its hard liners and its pragmatists, But, understated, in his visibly ill at ease posture, is the unwillingness of the US to continue the status quo, backed up with dangerous military braggadocio.
And it is the continued insistance for the North to 'prove its sincerity' that heightens the danger to military and political miscalculation.
Warner asked him to comment on vice president Biden's remarks that the current warlike posture in the North, is subject to the US logic that it is Kim Jong il's tack to bolster the image of his son and successor Kim Jong eun. Richardson limited himself to say that the danger to renewed confrontation requires dealing diplomatically with North Korea.
And at the closing moments of the PBS interview that Richardson dropped a stitch. He realised this but Warner was quick to pick up on his speaking without thinking. She caught it like the vulture that swops down on a fresh piece of political carrion.
Richardson remarked that in 'side bar discussions' with lower and middle level North Koreans, he detected dissatisfaction with the procession of succession. Warner ponced on this remark, as perhaps any journalist would as a 'scoop' of sorts. Hastily, Richardson tried to pick up his dropped remarked: he though, with a bead of sweat or two on the brow, affirmed that the drop of the hat, off the record, comments never put into doubt that the naming of Kim Jong eun as his father's rightful heir is a done deal and not open to revision.
Still, he remained firm in his belief that the moment was propitious for discussions with North Korea. Warner, with a twinkle in her eye, closed the interview, with the certain feeling, that things may not be what Richardson makes them out to be in North Korea.
Her attitude is in itself predictable, but worthy of comment since she is a mirror of the bankruptcy of US policy towards North Korea.