Officials Concerned About U.S. Preparedness for Talks With North Korea

Mar 20, 2018

Credit Mike Schinkel / Wikimedia Commons

Former Democratic New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will be in Concord on Tuesday to talk about diplomacy and relations between the U.S. and North Korea. Richardson has served as the U.S. ambassador to the UN and as Education Secretary under President Bill Clinton.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Richardson about his visit with the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire on Tuesday.


(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

Can you kind of preview some of what you are going to talk about, maybe run down some the specifics?

Yes, my main message is that for North Korea, we can't look at a preemptive military strike. There's too much potential for devastation to American troops, the two Koreas, to Japan, and the best solution is diplomacy. And while I disagree with President Trump's foreign policy, I am in accord with his acceptance of a meeting with Kim Jong-un to try to defuse the crisis. I just hope that we're prepared.

How do you hope that those talks are going to be handled between the two leaders?

We don't have a secretary of state yet. We don't have a national security team. We don't know who's taking the lead. I'm afraid that if we get in there with the North Koreans who are very strong negotiators, relentless, and we don't have a plan. And I think the administration's saying that they hope that North Korea denuclearizes completely. That's not going to happen. I think we have to have a set of objectives. Hopefully the first meeting of the two leaders will set a tone for negotiations that are going to last a long time. So I would say to the White House don't exceed expectations. Be prepared. Have a strategy. There are a lot of things that we need North Korea to do that is not just denuclearize, but stopped shooting their missiles, freeze on their missiles, especially the technology that might reach the United States--their artillery, their conventional weapons against South Korea, their exports of chemical weapons to Syria, human rights violations. Also Rick, you know we have three Americans in prison in North Korea, and that should be another objective as part of these talks.

What do you think are the realistic outcomes here?

What we should strive to get is a freeze on any future missile and nuclear development in the short term. I think in the long term try to get them to denuclearize completely. But they're not going to do it without a big price such as perhaps reducing our troops in South Korea, our military exercises. So it's all going to be a long term bargaining position. But I think the two leaders, the top leaders, meeting and negotiating from the top down is a little dangerous. It's risky. It's a gamble. And I commend the president for trying it. I'm just worried that we're not prepared, and his bombastic style, and tweeting, and insults is not going to help. I hope he cools down.

What's been the reaction [from] people when you talk about these issues?

There are a lot of people, especially in the foreign policy establishment, that are worried that we don't have an ambassador in South Korea. We don't have a team at the State Department. The Secretary of State was fired. The new Secretary of State hasn't been confirmed. So you know, there are those that say let's not have these talks until we're fully prepared. I say let's have the talks and let's have a crash course in trying to get ready. You know I've been to North Korea eight times. I've negotiated with them. They don't think like us. They're not in the quid pro quos. They have a cult of personality. They think everything emanates a deity from their leaders down so that they're never wrong. So these are tough negotiators. And here's a leader Kim Jong-un, unpredictable, but he's got 20 to 60 nuclear weapons. So we have to take it very seriously.