ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S., North Korea need "aggressive, bilateral dialogue."
Even as three or four more missiles stand on North Korean launch pads (according to The Associated Press) ready to follow up on Wednesday’s test-firing of seven missiles, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is urging the United States to engage in direct bilateral talks "within the context of the six-party talks" he tried to jump-start last October.
Meanwhile, the AP is reporting that President George W. Bush called today for a united stand against North Korea, saying any attempt by Pyongyang to wrest concessions through its missile tests will be rebuffed by the U.S. and four other nations — including Russia and China — who have pressured North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. If Bush’s efforts to sway Russia and China in presenting a united front are successful, that would leave New Mexico’s governor and occasional diplomat nearly alone on the world stage in calling for concessions to North Korea.
In a guest column in today’s New York Daily News (via RealClearPolitics.com), Richardson called this week’s missile tests by the "small, poor country half a world away" both a technological and a diplomatic failure.
"Condemnation from the United Nations Security Council and economic sanctions from North Korea’s Asian neighbors are a place to start" in response to the missile firings, said Richardson, who added, however, "we cannot afford to isolate this unpredictable nation further."
It was essentially the same message Richardson has been giving for a long time, even in an interview last week with the Albuquerque Journal, in which the governor warned against launching any pre-emptive strike against North Korea’s missiles.
Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton Administration, visited North Korea last October, in which he — according to the Daily News piece — "won from the North Koreans an agreement to return to the six-party talks involving the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia."
Richardson also successfully negotiated the release of an American held hostage by the North Koreans while he was a congressman in the mid-’90s and hosted North Korean diplomats in Santa Fe during his so-called "green chile diplomacy" in 2002.
Richardson said in that interview with the Journal’s Michael Coleman that he didn’t believe North Korea would actually test-fire any missiles, calling it a "gambit" to get the U.S. to the bargaining table.
"What they want, in my judgment, is to be treated as a major power," Richardson told the Journal last week. "And by dealing with the United States directly, they would get that. They don’t want to go through other channels like the six-party countries."
The governor also told the Journal last week he thought it would be a grave mistake for North Korea to test-fire a ballistic missile.
"It would not only harden American policymakers against North Korea, but it will also hurt them enormously in the international community," Richardson said.
But now, seven test-firings later — and with another three or four ready to launch — Richardson, arguably North Korea’s best friend and advocate in the United States and one of the few Americans with actual face-to-face experience with North Korean leaders, is still calling for direct talks that would offer that nation an "attractive package of incentives" in exchange for "strong sanctions for noncompliance."
Richardson told the Journal last week that he had leaned on President Bush during the president’s visit to Artesia early last month.
"I talked to him extensively about the need for direct talks," said Richardson. "He made no comment. He listened respectfully, and that’s all I asked."
Bush has ruled out such suggestions in the past, saying it would reward bad behavior to hold such talks, the Journal reported.
And White House press secretary Tony Snow reiterated that position in Washington today, according to the latest from the AP.
"There has been speculation that the North Koreans are doing this in hopes of trying to extract concessions or to win incentive packages," Snow told reporters. "If they think there’s going to be a reward for this kind of activity, they’re wrong. It’s a miscalculation. There is absolutely no daylight between the negotiating partners on that."