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Bill Richardson on Foreign Policy

Democratic Governor (NM); Secretary of Commerce-Designee


Nominated for five Nobel Peace Prizes

Bill Richardson's has earned 5 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. Richardson himself credits his ability to forge relationships with even the worst dictators in the world on his willingness to listen.

Over the course of a 25 year career in politics and diplomacy, Richardson has negotiated the release of hostages, prisoners, and soldiers in Cuba, Iraq, North Korea, and Sudan. In 1994, he traveled to North Korea to secure the release of an American Army pilot, then went back in 1996 to rescue another American hostage. In 1995, he traveled to Baghdad and engaged in lengthy negotiations with Saddam Hussein to garner the release of 2 American aerospace workers who accidentally walked past the Kuwaiti border into Iraq.

In 2007, Richardson traveled to North Korea to negotiate the release of the remains of 6 American soldiers, all of whom were killed during the Korean War.

Source: Unite and Conquer, by Kyrsten Sinema, p. 72-73 , Jul 1, 2009

1996: Negotiated release of Red Cross hostages in Sudan

During his 1996 trip to Sudan, Richardson successfully negotiated the release of 3 Red Cross workers held hostage by Sudanese rebels. The rebel leader, Kerubino Kwanyin Bol, began the meeting by demanding $2.5 million in exchange for the hostages, which of course Richardson could not agree to. Instead, Richardson listened as Kerubino complained about the effect that the US's embargo on Sudan was having on the rural communities in the country. Children were dying of cholera and dysentery and Kerubino's own daughter died 2 days earlier from measles.

Richardson told Kerubino that it sounded like the rebels needed help with humanitarian issues such as medical attention and food. Turns out, this is exactly what Kerubino wanted (even though he hadn't asked for it in his original demand). In the end, Kerubino agreed to release the hostages in exchange for vaccines, food, and sanitization of the local water source for the southern Sudan rebels and their community.

Source: Unite and Conquer, by Kyrsten Sinema, p. 73-74 , Jul 1, 2009

1996: Negotiated release of American hostages in Cuba

Here's Bill Richardson's story about finding common ground. When Richardson traveled to Cuba in 1996 to negotiate with Fidel Castro about the release of 3 American hostages, he started the conversation with baseball. Richardson's mother is from Mexico and he spent most of his childhood in Mexico, playing baseball religiously. He later played professionally in the US before entering politics. He knew about Castro's love of baseball and studied up on Castro's personality and style, so when he arrived to meet with Castro, Richardson spoke in Spanish and started the several-hour meeting by talking about what they has in common--a love of baseball. In the end, Richardson left Cuba with 3 freed hostages.

Finding common ground won't lead most of us to a life of freeing hostages from hostile dictators, but it always makes a great foundation in one's quest to form lasting relationships.

Source: Unite and Conquer, by Kyrsten Sinema, p. 76 , Jul 1, 2009

Al Qaida gets stronger while Musharraf governs Pakistan

Q: The Bush administration is considering expanding covert operations in western Pakistan, to shore up Musharraf & hunt Al Qaida. What do you make of this?

A: I donít have the details on it. But it sounds like a strategy that makes sense. However, I would want to be sure that Musharraf is doing his bit, because we have given him $11 billion to go after terrorists, to go after Al Qaida, to go after the safe havens on his border, and he has done an ineffective job. Certainly, if weíre targeting terrorists, and Musharraf is not doing his bit, we have got to take whatever action is needed. ,p>Q: You have suggested that Musharraf should step down, that the US should squeeze him to step down as president of Pakistan.

A: What serves the United States best is a broadly-based elected government, a democratic government. Pakistani officials commended me for calling for Musharraf to step aside and to insisting that there be free & fair elections. Al Qaida gets stronger when he still governs

Source: CNN Late Edition: 2008 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer , Jan 6, 2008

Set conditions on foreign aid assistance to Musharraf

We say to Musharraf: Security is more important than human rights. If Iím president, itís the other way around -- democracy and human rights. I would condition the assistance to Musharraf. We give him $10 billion, 60% of that is to his military, if he restores the constitution, holds elections in January, ends the state of emergency, allows Bhutto to run as a candidate, and puts the Supreme Court back. He is supposed to go after terrorists on his border, and has done a very weak job of doing that. Pakistan and the politics of Pakistan, Islamic parties get maybe 15 percent of the vote. So this threat that revolutionary elements are going to overtake him, if he has a fair election, and you take his party and Bhuttoís party, and you get the military. I believe moderate forces can win. If weíre on the side of democracy and human rights, and weíre on the side of Musharraf having elections, then US interests are preserved, and the Pakistani people have a democracy.
Source: 2007 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Nevada , Nov 15, 2007

Make $10B in aid to Pakistan conditional on democracy

Q: Pakistanís President Musharraf said that they will hold elections as scheduled in January, but the state of emergency wonít be lifted. Can there be fair and free elections while the constitution there is suspended?

A: Iím very skeptical of this announcement. You canít have democracy halfway. I am extremely concerned that President Musharraf has not delivered, in my judgment, as much as he could on going after Al Qaeda, on disbanding some of the terrorist headquarters that are on the Afghan-Pakistani border. And itís a failure of leadership on the part of the Bush administration. We should be saying to Musharraf very clearly, ďWe give you $10 billion since 9/11. Unless you have free elections and return to democracy, unless you go after Al Qaeda in a determined and effective way, your conditional assistance may be terminated.Ē Thatís what I would do. I think right now we have a failed nation state on our hands.

Source: Fox News Sunday: 2007 ďChoosing the PresidentĒ interviews , Nov 11, 2007

No conditions on aid to Pakistan, but push for democracy

Q: Richardson says he would threaten to cut off all US aid. Would you?

A: No, because if you play that last card and it doesnít work, then obviously you have no leverage whatsoever. Musharraf, by agreeing to the elections in February is a step forward. I know Musharraf. I know the area. Iíve been to Waziristan. Youíve got to put this situation in the context of the last 20 years. Pakistan was a failed state under Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf came to power to replace a failed state. We should appreciate if Pakistan collapses into a radical Islamic state, then our chances of building democracy and freedom in Afghanistan are in severe jeopardy. So this is a very delicate time. I would be doing intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations to convince Musharraf that the best thing for him, as well as the future of Pakistan, is to move forward with the democratic process. But to issue ultimatums and threats right now that may result in damage to US national security I think is inappropriate.

Source: Fox News Sunday: 2007 ďChoosing the PresidentĒ interviews , Nov 11, 2007

2001-2: Worked on energy strategy for Kissinger Association

Least palatable of all would be Richardsonís stint, during that same period of 2001 to 2002 as senior managing director of Kissinger McLarty Associates, an international strategic advisory firm specializing in Latin America and international energy issues. The firm was formed by the merger of two organizations headed by former Secretary of State and Mack McLarty, who served as President Clintonís chief of staff. No mention is made of the association on Richardsonís campaign website.
Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.192 , Nov 11, 2007

At UN,embraced Clintonís vision of international cooperation

Ten years ago I was the US Permanent Representative at the UN, known as our ďUN Ambassador.Ē When I came to the UN, I saw an opportunity to help Pres. Clinton with his strong vision for international cooperation and US leadership in a world increasingly trending toward democracy and human rights (despite some obvious exceptions).

President Clintonís general principles on world affairs earned enormous respect around the world. He was seen as a both a leader and team player. The vision of stable nations working together to bring peace to troubled nations seemed to be within our grasp. The US was respected around the world, and working at the UN meant making new friends--not new enemies, as we have seemed to do in more recent years--in our concerted program to maintain world peace, protect human rights, and support civil government around the world.

I was excited about the opportunity to use my background in foreign affairs, energy, and Congress to support his international program.

Source: Leading by Example, by Bill Richardson, p. 21-22 , Oct 26, 2007

US can inspire world with sacrifice instead of arrogance

The Bush administration has burned up the goodwill that the world once had for us. Many have been calling our recent international actions and attitude ďarrogant.Ē Real leadership is never arrogant. It is inspiring, it is positive, and itís strong--never blind or deaf to the worldís concerns as we address our own.

One of the great failings of arrogance is that it fails to inspire others. Why would the rest of the world want to follow an America that wonít inspire, that wonít sacrifice? As a nation, we have sacrificed our young men and women in Iraq, but the President hasnít called on the American people to sacrifice in the national interest--the war, for instance, is a credit-card purchase. Itís different from the first Gulf War, when we collaborated with dozens of countries not only to provide armed forces but also to join in paying the costs. Sacrifice and inspiration are part of Americaís image internationally, and how we think of ourselves too.

Source: Leading by Example, by Bill Richardson, p. 71 , Oct 26, 2007

US is isolated; need vision to rejoin world

Iíve never seen the US as isolated, as alone, as it finds itself today.

The polls from most nations, including some of our closest allies, show that approval & trust of the US is at an all-time low. Itís not just that the US has abdicated its leadershi role as the leader of the free world. Itís also unsettlingly true that our leaders have alienated people around the world.

I donít believe this is a situation that will take long to correct. The people of the world want to believe we are responsible & compassionate, that we are committed to freedom and basic rights, and that we want to participate constructively in world affairs. Visionary leadership and visionary action to implement a new role for the US, will turn the situation around quickly, and America will find itself surrounded by friends and allies once again.

The key to regaining our leadership role will not be the war on terror: it is the creation of a new energy future that provides hope and prosperity for the US and other nations.

Source: Leading by Example, by Bill Richardson, p. 76-77 , Oct 26, 2007

Jaw-boning is a non-military way to get things done

When oil prices spiked in 2000, it was critical, as the US Energy Secretary, for me to show oil producers that we were not going to accept sharp price increases. The Saudis werenít pleased that I embarked on what some people called a ďjaw-boningĒ mission to seek Saudi & OPEC production increases that could mitigate the sudden price spikes.

Jaw-boning isnít military, it isnít regulatory, it isnít strategic. Itís a tactic we use to change perception, to create publicity or a sense of obligation, & to begin signaling that we are starting to take action.

The Administration has refused to jaw-bone on oil prices, saying it prefers private dialogue with oil producers. My view is that jaw-boning canít really be effective unless itís public. The pric of oil is about triple what it was when Bush took office. My jaw-boning effort was successful. Oil prices settled back down by the end of 2000, as we were leaving office. Our actions to secure northeast heating oil supplies in the late summer paid off.

Source: Leading by Example, by Bill Richardson, p.148-151 , Oct 26, 2007

Alliance with Latin America on microlending & human needs

Q: What would you do about the increasing anti-American sentiment in Latin America?

A: For one, I would pay attention to Latin America if Iím president. This president does not. Number two, weíve got to fix the immigration issue. That is central not just to Mexico but Central America. Number three, weíve got to deal with the Cuba issue. What we need there is possibly start lifting the embargo but only after Fidel Castro releases political prisoners and their democratic freedoms. Then I would have a new alliance for progress with Latin America like John F. Kennedy that would improve contacts in renewable energy, and microlending, and human needs. I would try to associate myself, too, with democratic populist movements like that are taking place in Brazil, in Argentina, in Chile, but most importantly recognize that what happens in Latin America is key to Americaís future. A kid here in Miami has more contact and more opportunities in Latin America than anywhere else.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate on Univision in Spanish , Sep 9, 2007

Be tougher on China; itís a strategic competitor

Q: Is China an adversary or an ally?

A: China is a strategic competitor. And weíve got to be tougher on China when it comes to human rights and trade. Weíve got to say to China: Stop fooling around with currency. Find ways to be more sensitive to your workers, and youíve got to do more, China, in the area of human rights around the world, like put pressure on the Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur. We have to have a relationship that involves both strategic competition and common interests.

Source: 2007 AFL-CIO Democratic primary forum , Aug 8, 2007

UN troops in Darfur, & UN-enforced no-fly zone

Q: What action do you commit to, for Darfur? Would you commit American troops?

A: This is what I would do: Itís diplomacy. Itís getting UN peacekeeping troops and not African Union troops. Itís getting China to pressure Sudan. Itís getting the European Union to be part of economic sanctions in Sudan. Itís called leadership. A no-fly zone, I believe, would be an option. But we have to be concerned about humanitarian workers being hurt by planes, being shot.

Q: You say UN troops. Does that mean American troops?

A: UN peacekeeping troops, and that would primarily be Muslim troops. We need a permanent UN peacekeeping force, stationed somewhere. Genocide is continuing there; 200,000 have died; close to 2 million refugees in that region. America needs to respond with diplomatic leadership.

Source: 2007 YouTube Democratic Primary debate, Charleston SC , Jul 23, 2007

We always forget about Africa; I will care

Q: What would you do to address the need for more aid and health care to go out to Africa and the Caribbean?

A: We always forget about Africa. I spent a lot of time on African issues as UN ambassador. In a recent trip to Darfur, where thereís genocide, a refugee who had lost her husband said, ďWhen is America going to start helping?Ē So I pledge to you that in my foreign policy, I will care about Africa, about AIDS, malaria, refugees. I will care about a continent that has been ignored.

Source: 2007 NAACP Presidential Primary Forum , Jul 12, 2007

Pressure China & Europe to enforce no-fly zone in Darfur

Q: Darfur is the second time that our nation has had a chance to do something about genocide in Africa. The first came in Rwanda in 1994, when we did nothing.

RICHARDSON: You know, in the last debate I upset some people because I said we should use the levers on China, on them hosting the Olympics, to do something on Darfur. You know, I believe that fighting genocide is more important than sports. So what I would like to do is, one, a no-fly zone. Get economic sanctions backed by the Europeans. We need to find ways to stop the massive rapes. I was in Darfur three months ago. Today a report by Refugees International laid out a plan to deal with that. We should not forget about Africa. American policymakers should take stands not just on the Middle East and Iraq.

EDWARDS: I agree, a no-fly zone; a security force on the ground; sanctions; pressure on the Chinese. But Darfur is part of a bigger question for America: how do we re-establish ourselves after Iraq as a force for good in the world?

Source: 2007 Democratic Primary Debate at Howard University , Jun 28, 2007

Talking to your enemies can produce results, like N. Korea

Two months ago in North Korea, I was proud to help show how talking to your enemies can produce results. We need to bring back diplomacy in our foreign policy. We need to remember what the great Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said. He said, you donít make peace with your friends; you make peace with your enemies.

With North Korea, we were able to push the North Koreans, possibly, to start reducing their nuclear threat, and we did bring home the remains of six American servicemen from the Korean War.

The situation is similar to the Middle East. This president broke Iraq. The next president needs to know how to use diplomacy to fix it. My world view is different from my colleagues. In my career, Iíve been able to get results not with harsh words but hard work. You talk to your adversaries. You listen. And with clarity comes cooperation. Itís how I have approached foreign policy. Itís how I have approached governing. And itís how Iíll serve, hopefully, as your president.

Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference , Jun 19, 2007

Israel is less safe with Bushís policies

I would promote a tough negotiation with Iran. But the reality is that if we bring Iran and Syria, we could possibly lessen the instability in Iraq, and make some progress on the Middle East situation, on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Israel today is our strongest ally in the Middle East, but it is less safe with the policies of the president. Iíd bring a Middle East peace envoy to try to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together.

Source: CNN Late Edition: 2007 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer , Jun 10, 2007

Strategic interests in Russia: loose nukes & Chechnya

Q: How would you do things differently with Russia?

A: I would assess what our strategic interests are. What would I want from Russia?

  1. I want them to control some of the loose nuclear weapons in their domain.
  2. Iíd want them to be more humane in dealing with Chechnya.
  3. Iíd want them to be a stable source of energy for this country.
  4. I would want them to promote more democracy in their own nation.
Source: 2007 South Carolina Democratic primary debate, on MSNBC , Apr 26, 2007

Being stubborn isnít a foreign policy--diplomacy is

This president characterizes this--being stubborn isnít a foreign policy. And power without diplomacy is blank. I would focus my presidency on dealing with the real threats to America. International terrorism, nuclear proliferation. Iíve dealt directly with North Korea, & made the situation better. I would deal with issues like Darfur. Why is it that America does not care about Africa, about genocide, about issues relating to enormous amount of deaths that are brought forth by international poverty?
Source: 2007 South Carolina Democratic primary debate, on MSNBC , Apr 26, 2007

Re-evaluate embargo for post-Castro Cuba

Q: How do you feel about normalizing relations with Castroís Cuba?

A: We need to find ways to deal with a post-Castro Cuba. I would bring Cuban-Americans into the dialogue. I would change the Bush administration policy which is limiting family visits, which is limiting remittances from Cubans. We should be re-evaluating the embargo. Also finding ways that we ensure that Cuba becomes democratic, with trade unionism, with free elections. And we should be engaged in a policy right now.

Source: 2007 South Carolina Democratic primary debate, on MSNBC , Apr 26, 2007

Bad guys like Richardson; he can make peace with enemies

America in the last six years needs to do a lot to recover, especially internationally. I believe the next president is going to have to have experience internationally. Iíve been ambassador to the United Nations. Iíve been secretary of Energy.

President Clinton used to send me around the world to talk to dictators, either to get American service men out or to get American prisoners out. He used to say, ďBad guys like Richardson, so Iím sending him there.Ē

I was just in Darfur. At a refugee camp, a mother who had lost a child asked me, ďWhat has taken so long for America to help us in this tragedy?Ē

Foreign policy should not be just about power. It should be about doing something about eliminating poverty and dealing with AIDS and dealing with refugees and sicknesses. Thatís how we regain our moral authority.

I would do what Yitzhak Rabin used to say, the great Israeli leader. He said you donít make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies.

Source: 2007 AFSCME Democratic primary debate in Carson City Nevada , Feb 21, 2007

Ask Musharraf to step aside as Pakistanís ruler

Q: What would you do if Islamic radicals took control of Pakistan?

A: In any foreign policy decision, I would use diplomacy first. The last thing we need in the Muslim world is another action like Iraq, which is going to inflame the Muslim world. With Pakistan, here is a potentially failed nation-state with nuclear weapons. What a president must do is have a foreign policy of principles and realism. And the Bush foreign policy, with Musharraf, we get the worst of all worlds. He has not gone after Al Qaida in his own country, despite the fact that weíve given him $11 billion. And heís also severely damaged the constitution. Heís basically said that he is the supreme dictator. I would ask Musharraf to step aside.

Q: Ask him to step aside?

A: Yes. We have the leverage to do that. There is a provision in the Pakistani constitution for a caretaker government of technocrats. This happened when a previous prime minister died.I would send a high-level envoy to ask him to step aside.

Source: 2008 Facebook/WMUR-NH Democratic primary debate , Jan 6, 2006

When negotiating, focus on goals, not locale or format

Source: Between Worlds, by Bill Richardson, p.363-4 , Nov 3, 2005

First to visit Aung San Suu Kyi under Burmese house arrest

Aung San, the prime mover behind Burmaís independence, was murdered by a political rival in 1947. His daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, got deeply involved in Burmese politics in 1988. A free election was held in 1990 & her party won 80% of the seats. Instead of becoming prime minister, she was placed under house arrest by the military. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In Feb. 1994, I became the first non-family member permitted to visit Aung San Suu Kyi since her arrest. I urged the military junta leader to open a dialogue with her, and I volunteered to mediate. She is the key to Burmaís reputation in the international community, I said, particularly in the US. I said at a press conference that she should be released without condition. She was released in July 1995 and since then has been in and out of house arrest--mostly in.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the Nelson Mandela of the Burmese people, and one day, she will lead a new democracy movement in her country.

Source: Between Worlds, by Bill Richardson, p.122-5 , Nov 3, 2005

Negotiated with Castro to halve fee to emigrate from Cuba

I met Fidel Castro in Havana in 1996. We spoke in Spanish and covered topics including human rights, the release of jailed dissidents, and the fees the government charged any Cuban who wanted to emigrate to the US.

At that time, Cuba charged $600 for exit documents. This was prohibitive to thousands who wanted to leave. The ďRichardson AgreementĒ cut that figure in half for up to 1,000 Cubans per year who could demonstrate financial hardship. Castro suggested, without making a promise, that we could build on this agreement, perhaps leading to the relaxation of restrictions in other areas. I also succeeded in returning home with several imprisoned dissidents.

I am no fan of Castroís politics and the repression he has visited upon Cubans for the past 46 years. But all in all, he was probably the best-informed foreign leader I met during that period in the mid-1990s.

Source: Between Worlds, by Bill Richardson, p.168-171 , Nov 3, 2005

Clinton administration negotiated North Korea nuclear freeze

In the 1990s, South Korea was an extraordinary success story. North Korea, on the other hand, seemed a fossil frozen in a bizarre prehistory, its politics imprisoned in a Stalinist cult of personality, its economy a stagnant relic isolated from market forces driving prosperity elsewhere.

North Korea did have one claim to modernity that earned it the enmity of the US and other Western countries: It had a fairly sophisticated uranium-enrichment program dating back to the 1980s that was not limited to uses permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By the early 1990s, in fact, it was clear that North Korea was prepared to produce nuclear weapons and might even have made a couple of them.

Pres. Bill Clinton engaged North Korea in a long and arduous set of negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear-weapons program. In Oct. 1994, the two countries signed an agreement to freeze and eventually unplug the North Korean nuclear facilities that were capable of making atomic weapons.

Source: Between Worlds, by Bill Richardson, p. 132-133 , Feb 2, 2005

US military force only when US territory attacked

Source: 1996 Congressional National Political Awareness Test , Nov 1, 1996

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Page last updated: Mar 09, 2014