WASHINGTON – Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson – one of few Americans to maintain contact with the North Korean government over the past two decades – called Tuesday’s summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un a positive development, while the state’s U.S. senators sounded a more skeptical tone.
Richardson said the meeting in Singapore was beneficial from a diplomatic standpoint but a mixed bag on the thornier subject of persuading Kim to give up his nuclear weapons.
“It was historic and positive in that it lessened tension on the peninsula, but it’s a mixed result on denuclearization because North Korea has basically not given up anything,” Richardson told the Journal. “It’s good to see less tension … the two leaders getting together and trusting each other.
“But I would have wanted to see more on human rights, more on verification (of North Korean efforts to dismantle its nuclear weapons enterprise). There is no mention hardly at all on inspection and verification.”
Richardson is a former U.N. ambassador and sometime diplomatic troubleshooter for the U.S. in North Korea. Richardson has experience negotiating with Kim Jong Il – the late father of the current North Korean president. He has never met the son. But Richardson has kept in touch with members of the North Korean government through his contacts at the United Nations.
A document signed by Trump and Kim on Tuesday was short on detail or specifics and effectively amounted to an agreement to continue talks. The Associated Press reported that it did not include any concrete language on steps toward ending the technical state of warfare between the U.S. and North Korea.
Richardson said the lack of specific commitments from North Korea was not surprising.
“They never say ‘yes’ to anything, and they never say ‘no’ – they just string you along,” Richardson said. “In all of the agreements with the U.S. — with the Bush administration, the Clinton administration – they said they would denuclearize and then they don’t do it. They break the agreement. So the jury is still out on the denuclearization issues.”
Richardson said another “positive” result from Tuesday’s talk was an agreement to return remains of U.S. soldiers in North Korea from the 1950-1953 Korean War. During a 2007 trip to Pyongyang, Richardson persuaded the North Koreans to turn over the remains of six U.S. soldiers killed during the war.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., scorched Trump on Twitter for agreeing to the summit with Kim, calling it “weak.”
“President Trump just gave a brutal North Korean dictator the international legitimacy he has always craved and got nothing in return,” Heinrich tweeted. “Weak.”
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., told reporters in a conference call that he was skeptical.
“I’m always in favor of smart diplomacy to defuse tensions – but it’s still unclear what exactly we got out of the summit,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I’m concerned that the United States seems to have gotten very little from North Korea: no concrete timeline or verifiable details for denuclearization. In exchange for a vague promise, we gave North Korea a big concession – ending our military exercises on the peninsula, and eroding readiness as a result.”
Rep. Steve Pearce, the delegation’s lone Republican, offered praise for the summit.
“North Korea has been unstable, repressive and dangerous for more than 65 years, and anything which can promote stability is what we must be doing,” Pearce said. “As I have stated in the past, the United States cannot tolerate North Korea’s tactics of intimidation, and I look forward to seeing what progress will be made over the next few months for the people of North Korea, the United States and the world.”