Asia & the United States in the 21st Century—Building Our Future Together

Gov. Bill Richardson (Photo by sskennel/flickr)

Asia Society, New York
April 18, 2007

HASSAN NEMAZEE: Good afternoon, my name is Hassan Nemazee, and I'm a trustee here at the Asia Society. On behalf of all the trustees and in particular on behalf of the president of the Asia Society, Vishakha Desai, I welcome you. A belated welcome as well from our chairman, who is not here today, but who is in Kazakhstan, conducting business on behalf of the Society. I am delighted to be the person to introduce Governor Bill Richardson. This is part of an ongoing series of presentations done here at the Asia Society of leading political leaders talking about US-Asia issues, because these are what we consider to the forefront of issues that we have to contend with not only here in New York but in the United States. We have been fortunate in having former Governor Warner, and former Governor Vilsack, both of whom presented here at the time that they were thinking of running for President. I don't think that that has any implications for today. [LAUGHTER] Senator Edwards has also been here, and next month we're going to have Senator Hagel, so that we have a bipartisan hue to all of this.

But today we're fortunate in having Governor Bill Richardson, and I'm delighted to be able to introduce him because I consider him to be a great friend. Now if you've had an opportunity to look at the resume, you'll note that he has probably worn more different hats on behalf of public service in this country than almost any other person that I know. He has been a Congressman for 15 years, representing the state of New Mexico. He has been an ambassador to the United Nations. He has been Secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration. He is now a two-term Senator in New Mexico. He is also seeking yet another office, and that is the Presidency of the United States, so we may yet have an opportunity of not only calling him Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Congressman, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Governor, but also possibly in the future Mr. President. I'm delighted to introduce him here today. The format is going to be this. He will come up and speak for a few minutes. David Remnick, who is the editor of The New Yorker magazine, will be the moderator and will conduct the question-and-answer period. So without further ado, Governor Richardson.


GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: Thank you very much. The first thing I want to say is that everything Hassan said is totally true. [LAUGHTER] Is that a mirror or is that more people? [LAUGHTER] That's great. I'm very unhappy that Holbrooke is not here. He told me that when you speak to the Asia Society, these are leading New Yorkers, and you can look about your foreign policy across the world and impress people. When we had breakfast two months ago, he said, you know, you're at the margin of error right now, so you need some help. [LAUGHTER] That's supposed to be a joke. [LAUGHTER] I'm not there anymore, I'm moving up, I'm moving up, and I'll be glad to talk about it in the Q-and-A with David Remnick. By the way, Madame Desai, thank you for inviting me. I did this speech before, about 10 years ago, on North Korea, and I enjoyed that speech very much. I also want to thank Hassan Nemazi, the leading fundraiser in the country for a lot of Democrats, but one in particular, which is not me, and that's all right. [LAUGHTER] But you know I'm making inroads with him. I want to thank David Remnick too. I told David when I walked in that he and I are probably the only human beings in this room who know who Sonny Liston was. Oh, we've got two or three? All right, a few more. I say that because David is an enormously gifted writer on foreign policy and politics, but I think his greatest contributions have been in the areas of sports and culture in this country. What I want to do is talk to you about North Korea and Asia. I'm not going to talk about my foreign policy platform around the world. This is the very distinguished Asia Society, and I want to just share some thoughts. Obviously, I'm going to start with North Korea, because I was just there. I was there three days ago. We spent three days in North Korea. The objective was twofold—one, to try to secure the remains of American servicemen from the Korean war, and two, to push and prod the North Koreans toward meeting their deadline, which was late Saturday, to terminate the Yongbyong reactor and invite international inspectors. Now did this originate? Well, I have been negotiating with the North Koreans for many years. I've been there six times. I recall when I was just being inaugurated as governor of New Mexico but before I took office, I was driving to get my laundry done in Santa Fe. I was in my car and my cell rang. It was Ambassador Han, from the UN mission from North Korea. He said, Governor, we're having problems with the Bush administration. They won't talk to us. They won't listen to us. Can you help us? I said Han, I left the government many years ago. I'm governor of New Mexico. I don't think the Bush administration's going to listen to me.

To make a long story short, I started a back channel with Colin Powell, to at least try to be helpful. For a long time I have been critical of the Bush administration and not negotiating directly with the North Koreans, and I think that's the essence of diplomacy. I apply that as well to Iran and Syria. I remember what Itzhak Rabin said. He said, you negotiate with your enemies, not with your friends. They can be tough negotiations when you sit with somebody. You're not necessarily rewarding bad behavior as the President says we always do. But I had this opportunity recently with the North Koreans. They said, you've been pressing on the remains issue for a long time, and we'd like you to come to North Korea, to Pyongyang, and we'll hand you over some remains, unconditionally, as a gesture. I called a man in the White House named Steve Hadley who I felt was very responsible, and said look, this is bipartisan. This should not be me as a Presidential candidate. We should get these remains and maybe we can press them on other issues. It should be a joint delegation. To their credit, the White House said yes. So the President's top Asia advisor, Victor Cha, was a member of my delegation. Anthony Princippi, who used to be Secretary of Veterans' Affairs, was also on the delegation. I had my experts. We got an Air Force plane, and believe me, the airplane is very important when you're doing joint missions. You want to get there secure and safely, seeing as the only way to get to North Korea is through Air Koryo, which goes about twice a week and its fatality rate is about 50 percent. No, I'm just kidding. [LAUGHTER] I'm just kidding! The press, that's not true. Is that press? [LAUGHTER] Anyway, we went, and I believe the mission was successful. That's one of my essences in foreign policy and running for President. I believe that this country needs to be brought together. We're too divided, and it's the war in Iraq that is dividing us. But at the same time, politics and natural security should stop at the water's edge, and this was an opportunity where the countries advanced, partly by securing the remains for the many families. You wouldn't believe how emotional this issue is around the country. There had to be repatriation of those remains, the military had to be involved, there had to be proper ceremonies, identification, et cetera.

But we also had the opportunity to press the North Koreans on agreeing to the six-party talks. This is where I believe the Bush administration and the Secretary of State have gone from a wrong-headed policy to the right-headed policy. The wrong-headed policy was basically to out-source our foreign policy to the Chinese. We'll let the Chinese pressure the North Koreans into having six-party talks. Well, the North Koreans kept saying we want to talk to the United States directly within the six-party talks. Finally, an outstanding diplomat by the name of Christopher Hill entered the bureaucratic wars and I believe succeeded in persuading the moderates in the administration against the John Boltons and the Dick Cheneys who wanted regime change. A constructive policy has resulted, and possibly the North Koreans agreeing to a six-party agreement that goes something like this. North Korea dismantles its weapons, shuts down its reactors, stops its production of uranium, stops production of other nuclear materials. In exchange, the United States says, we're going to give you an armistice agreement which basically says we won't attack you, which North Korea's kind of interested in. That's supposed to be funny. [LAUGHTER] We'll give food and heavy fuel oil, basically an economic-assistance package to a country that's one of the poorest on earth. It's something that I believe across the board makes sense. It's endorsed by the six-party countries, such as Japan, which is interested in other issues such as the abductions of many of its citizens, South Korea, and Russia, which doesn't attend these meetings very much but is part of the six-party group. We find a way that you at least bring stability to North Korea, although you're not going to cure all problems. Now the way we left it when we departed Pyongyang was that North Korea was very interested in getting $25 million in funds that had been frozen from a bank in Macao. That bank had basically, at the direction of the Treasury and others, frozen the funds allegedly because there was counterfeiting, et cetera, and the North Koreans are acting like Jerry Maguire in the movie, “Show me the money!” Remember that? They wanted the money to land on them. But you had to go to the bank and get it, and they weren't ready to do that. Where it is now, I believe that every possible venue to hand those funds to the North Koreans has happened.

In exchange, they promised us in the delegation that a few days after those funds were unfrozen and they had their hands on them, they would shut down the Yongbyong reactor and invite international inspectors. That's phase one of a potential six-party agreement. Phase two is disabling other nuclear weapons, which I think will be more difficult. But it's at least a path to progress. Now, like everybody else I'm waiting for the North Koreans to say that the Yongbyong reactor has been shut down. There is some press activity saying that activity is being spotted around the reactor. Maybe that means it's being shut down. I hope it isn't being accelerated. I don't know how many of you have had a chance to be in North Korea, probably not too many of you, but they're isolated. They're almost in a time warp. They don't negotiate like we do. Everybody here sits down and says, well, this is what I want. Will you give me this? Quid pro quo. No, they don't negotiate or think that way. Their view is that, this is their negotiation. You say to them, well, we can't do that. Their argument, in terms of a negotiation to give something to you, is to give you more time to come to their agreement. [LAUGHTER] It's hard when you're dealing with a very dogmatic state. The deity, Kim Jong-il, basically permeates the thinking and the policies of everything they do. I told Ms. Desai I wouldn't go over 10 minutes. But that is my view of it. Depending on how this agreement goes, this is going to shape future American activities in Asia. Now, I'm of the view that America still has to be the security guarantor in the region. If I'm elected, as President I would make sure that that stability continues. Obviously the relationship with Japan is critical. Obviously the relationship with China is critical, although we are strategic competitors. Obviously we've got new actors in South Asia, India and Pakistan. For years before the Clinton administration, our policy was that South Asia was not as important. Only China and Japan were important. Now that has not necessarily shifted, but we're giving the whole region the importance it deserves.

What are the potential areas of cooperation? I believe in a new Asia with America as a security guarantor. With respect to North Korea, there's going to have to be a verification system for any agreement dealing with nuclear weapons that involves the six-party countries, such as China and Japan. It's critically important to find means of international verification and monitoring of their activity. Secondly, North Korea has kind of hinted that they'd like to be part of a security framework in the future that involves a closer relationship with the six-party countries. Now, some interpret that as North Korea saying it would like to be a bridge, the way many other countries are bridges, between China and other nations that may feel threatened by China. That is something that we need to watch. My point is that the United States has to be actively engaged. I believe our military presence has to continue. I even question when we reduced the number of troops to 27,000 on the DMZ. I thought maybe for military-structural reasons I could see the justification, but it sent a terrible signal, I believe, in the DMZ and the whole framework of the six-party talk. This was about two or three years ago. The troops are now reduced to 27,000. I believe we have to really look at this six-party North Korean agreement, and maintain the presence of America as active in Asia. What do we do about Japan, obviously a key ally? I believe the first step we should take, and I would take, is to look at international realities. I would have India and China as automatic members of the UN Security Council. I think that has to happen. This is a new world, a no-strategic world. Both nations contribute enormously to not just UN peacekeeping but especially Japan, and to funding of all kinds of UN activities. So I would have China and India in the UN Security Council, but without a veto power. I think we've got to be realistic that the five powers still maintain that. But there should be an automatic entry, as those nations are paramount in their region. I would also have Germany there, obviously. I would also have a seat in Africa and Latin America. I think this can be properly structured to look at new realities in the region. I would also have India and Japan be more active in the G7. I think that is critically important. But the main areas of cooperation that I would pursue with China and India in the G7 more than anything in a short-term relationship with Asia, is an agreement on the Kyoto treaty for global climate change. China and India don't participate in the Kyoto treaty, and neither does the United States, which I believe is a huge, huge problem.

Future international economic stability involves oil prices, energy efficiency, and a planet that is basically saying to the world that it's being abused. I think Al Gore has been right. I hope he says out of the race. [LAUGHTER] Will you tell him that? But what I'm saying is that I believe the United States should take the leadership. I would advocate, immediately upon becoming President, reconvening the Kyoto nations, scrapping the treaty and bringing forth a stronger one because we've lost six years, and involving China and India. They're key players. If they see that the United States is participating, and if they see a way through renewable technologies and mandated trade caps and greenhouse emissions, they will participate. They'll see that economically it means new industries and new jobs in renewable energy. That would be a major effort I would undertake. I think Ms. Desai is getting impatient. So finally, I believe the relationship with China has to be very carefully handled. I am not a protectionist. I've been a free-trader. I supported NAFTA. I believe, however, that we have to have free-trade agreements in the future that are more conscious of areas that have not been in American policy before. Yes, globalization exists. But there's got to be more done in the area of environmental quality involving trade agreements, wage disparities, and worker rights. It can't just be side agreements as we did with NAFTA, because those were unenforceable. As somebody who supported NAFTA but looks now at the border that has not been cleaned up, where wage disparities still exist, where workers' rights are not observed but were in a side agreement, I believe it's important that we look at future trade agreements in that context. China is a strategic competitor, and China I believe wants to have a positive, peaceful role in the world. I don't believe necessarily in saying to China they can do whatever they want on human rights. It's wrong to do that. But I think publicly scolding China, and finding ways to work with China to improve human rights performance, would be critical in my administration.

But at the same time, we would try to get China to be part of an international system that will obtain after we get out of Iraq—and if you want to know when that would be, I'll tell you. I believe there has to be a Marshall Plan for the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, especially in the Muslim world. I believe China, India, and Japan have to participate. It's almost an out-of-area that I would major nations in Asia participating in. We're going to have a permanent structure in the Middle East after Iraq that involves reconstruction, reviving American influence in the area, loans, and renewable-energy technology sharing. I want these nations to be constructive actors. I would also like to see China do more in one area that's very important to me—Darfur. I was there two months ago, and we got a very fragile cease-fire. The Save Darfur Coalition invited me to go. About four months ago, I'd gotten out an American Chicago Tribune journalist by the name of David Salopek. He had been imprisoned there. I knew President Bashir. President Clinton used to say Iraq, North Korea, Syria... bad people like Richardson, so we'll send him there. [LAUGHTER] I would go negotiate with them, and usually it was over an American prisoner or serviceman. With Mobutu in Africa when I was at the UN it was trying to get Mobutu and get Kabila in, that was a good deal. [LAUGHTER] But anyway, it was short-term and it was all right until we found out what kind of a leader Kabila was. So that's the centerpiece of my Asian policy. I can go country by country. In Burma, for God's sake, let's lean more on that regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi and find ways to bring democracy there. Somehow, our quiet diplomacy is not working, and it's been a long time. You can only use so much quiet diplomacy. I think we've got to be more active. But at the same time, we must recognize that cultures are different. I believe in negotiating almost with anybody to resolve differences. I think this is where this nation should be. What about Iran and Syria. If we want to deal with Iraq, how can we not deal with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and with the Muslim populations? We have an embassy in Syria, but we don't talk to them. How are we going to deal with Hezbollah? How are we going to deal with the whole issue of Hamas? We don't want Iran to build nuclear weapons, so what do we do? We taunt them and call them Axis of Evil? We should talk to them directly in a tough negotiation. I bet you there are common interests that involve the whole region.

Anyway, my last point in this. The first thing I would do with American foreign policy is to rebuild our alliances with our friends, and get international support for our foreign policy goals. Those goals shouldn't just be strategic and peacekeeping. I'd like this country to care about Africa, about issues of international poverty, about refugees, about those who've been left behind, about AIDS, about genital mutilation, about gender-based violence. If you go to Darfur, that is the biggest crime there—crimes against people. Somehow, our country only look at the strategic issues. Oh, that's important. But it's also important to be on the right side of dealing with the human crises in the world that somehow don't get the visibility they deserve. It's important to somehow deal with the Darfurs. If you're looking at number of deaths—250,000—number of displacements and refugees—300,000—why don't we care about it? Is it because it's Africa, and strategically it doesn't involve energy or oil? That's the kind of approach that I would use. Finally, with Asia, the only regret I have about my trip is that we were so tied up in South Korea that I didn't go to Eta-Wan. No, I shouldn't say that. That's supposed to be funny. [LAUGHTER] Don't you know who Eta-Wan [PH] is? It's popular culture. Anyway, David, do we sit here? Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]

DAVID REMNICK: My job is to ask a few questions to get a discussion going. Then there'll be questions from the audience. I want to thank everybody here at the Asia Society, especially Richard Holbrooke. When he called me, he said, I'll be there, of course, but not personally. [LAUGHTER] Governor, I don't know how many people in this room have been to North Korea. Probably very few, and even fewer have had the experience of negotiating with the North Korean regime. I think we'd all like to get a sense from the inside what it's like. People who have negotiated with the old Soviet Union or with China or with any number of regimes reported back a regime with a certain logic. However horrible it might have been, there was a certain logic to it, a kind of interest and so on. Here, the supernatural and the strange play roles. How does that work politically, what's it like being in the room with this, and does it play a role in political outcomes?

Well, David, I mentioned before that negotiating with them is totally unusual, more so than with any other country. For one, when you arrive, you're not told what the schedule is. You know how we all are as Americans. All right, I'm going to Country X now. I want to see my 10 appointments today. Forget it. With them, they'll tell you when they're ready and what they want you to do. They will give you access to whatever they want you to see, introduce you to whoever they want to talk to you. You can make requests ahead of time. What we wanted to do was talk to the military about the remains, and see the Yongbyong reactor which I had seen in my last visit. Half of those appointments materialized. Regimes like North Korea like to keep you off-base. They don't want you to feel that you have the upper hand. You're treated very well. They had us at a guest house with automobiles. Everything is very regimented. Once you make the schedule, you can't change it. It's like a national security decision. I don't want to go to this performance of the People's Army. How about if I talk to the economic advisor to—no, forget it. You know, you can't do that, that's wrong. So you have a mind-set that is very set. You have leadership that is based on the deity of Kim Jong-il. There are massive portraits of him and his father all around the city of Pyongyang. You see very little activity around the city, with most of the vehicles official vehicles. There's a subway system. Agriculture is literally man-induced. I didn't see one tractor, and it's an agricultural country. It's one of the poorest nations on earth. To conclude, how do they negotiate? They think their point of view is correct. They believe their biggest asset is their nuclear card.

Are they wrong?

Well, no. David, I think they may have as many as five or six nuclear weapons. They have a 1.2 million-man army. They've got 300,00 artillery shells that are pointed at, uh, South Korea. So they use that as a negotiating card, and to frighten the world. Here's my last point. They believe very strongly in protocol. They believe they're a major power. So when the President said Axis of Evil, and made some remarks about the height of the President of North Korea, it ticked them off.

Ronald Reagan called the former Soviet Union the Evil Empire, and a year later he was at a summit in Moscow, celebrating what in essence was the end of the Cold War. It's different, is what you're suggesting. It's radically different.

I just believe my point there, David, is you've got to talk to them directly. You're not losing much by talking to them directly. You actually get more done.

How do you see the future of the North Korean regime? Obviously the Chinese, especially in the wake of 1989 and even before but certainly more radically afterward, made a range of political and economic calculations about reform to keep themselves in power yet reform the country. The Soviet Union had its Gorbachev moment and its transformation of a very different kind, throughout Eastern Europe and all the rest. How do you see the future of North Korea—is it going to go from deity to deity and maintain this very strange set of strengths and its isolation? How can that possibly continue? If it can't, and if it's in the interest of China that it not dissolve because of the mass migration that would occur into China, what is as it were the end-game for North Korea? Where does this go?

RICHARDSON: Well, my view is that they've made the strategic decision to join the world. Now, they're going to do that on their own terms, and they're going to use the nuclear card to secure as much heavy oil and food as possible, and to get as many sanctions lifted as possible. I believe they've made the decision that they want to join the 21st century. That's my view. Others believe that's not the case.

REMNICK: You can't join it just a little bit, as Gorbachev found out. You can't just have a little bit of the 21st century, and have a little bit of the Internet, et cetera.

My guess is that they're going to follow the Chinese model, which is to slowly allow freedoms to come in, but retaining a very strong, hierarchical, upper-political system. I think that's what they're thinking. One of the issues with North Korea is that they've had very little exposure to the outside world. North Koreans don't travel. They watch television that is mandated by the state. It's on for three hours a day and is all about deity issues and how they won the Korean war. It's novels that the state picks. They have no outward view. People say, don't North Koreans miss capitalism? Don't they know how South Korea lives? The answer is no, because they don't go out. When some individuals don't have much, there's little they feel they are losing. This is generational.

But that's hardly the Chinese model. The Chinese have restrictions and limits, but the world has more than seeped into Chinese society, even in the interior.

That's where I think they eventually want to be, the North Koreas.

What to do about Iran? It is one thing to negotiate with Iran, and it's another to make distinctions about who is in charge in Iran. But the fact of the matter remains, that by all evidence, defiance on the nuclear issue in Iran continues apace. The rhetoric from the president about Israel, the United States and the rest continues with abating. How would you proceed if you were in the White House?

There are three main reasons why we should be concerned about Iran. One, obviously, is their claim that they want to have nuclear weapons. We can't allow that to happen. Two, I believe a stronger Iran threatens our main ally in the region, which is Israel. Three, they obviously are disrupting the situation in Iraq with their support for radical terrorist elements. What I do, David, in a negotiation—and I'm sure all of you do—is to ask what the other side has that I need, and what do I have that we can give. What are our common areas where we can reach agreement? With Iran, it would be very difficult to negotiate with Ahmadi-Nejad. He just seems an ideologue. But there are other elements there in the Foreign Ministry. If you look at Iran, 40 percent of the Iranian people seem to vote for moderate, progressive candidates in presidential elections. I would be talking to them more directly—student exchanges, business exchanges, efforts to reach out that somehow we don't exploit because they, quote, engage in bad behavior. What else does Iran want that we have? Well, Iran doesn't want sanctions, especially on energy, since that's their highest source of revenue. They don't want UN Security Council sanctions, as much as they defy them. I think that's a card that we have. What do we want Iran not to have? We don't want them to have nuclear weapons. But maybe they can have civilian nuclear power that Russia seems willing to produce and control for them. Maybe that's a common interest. I don't know all the answers, David, but I do know that any nation wants stability on their borders. Look at the Iran-Iraq war. I think for many years Iran wanted stability on their borders, and they weren't getting it. They're fomenting instability in Iraq now, but I believe in the context of a broader Persian Gulf strategic balance, Iran may be interested in a stable Iraq that isn't causing problems on their border.

REMNICK: Under what circumstances, if any, would you use the military against Iran?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think you have to have the military option on the table if they start developing nuclear weapons. You can't take that off the table. But my approach is not to take the military option or preemption first. There should be diplomacy first.

REMNICK: Do you think that's been the Bush strategy?

[LAUGHS] Yes. I think so.


I'm not saying military all the time. But there's hostility, there's preemption, there's “Axis of Evil. ” I'd be talking directly to them and using diplomacy. We have some of the world's best diplomats. I'd send Holbrooke over there, because I'm mad at him for not showing up. [LAUGHTER]

He's in Kazakhstan. I'm going to ask one more question and then we'll open it up. You mentioned that every once in a while in post-war history, something disastrous takes place, and someone proposes a Marshall Plan for it. You're now talking about a Marshall Plan for Iraq, the Middle East and so on. What exactly does that mean?

RICHARDSON: In my judgment, a Marshall Plan would not be one just involving assistance. It doesn't just involve loans and World Bank credits. It involves a cultural Marshall Plan. You know, when I look at Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and their curriculum for K-through-12, there's enormous hostility in that curriculum towards the United States. You're breeding anti-Americans in the young people of countries that are our allies. I would engage in a huge, multi-lateral, diplomatic, educational effort. I would also try to leverage those countries and ask them to stop teaching that stuff, because it's not true. This is where I think jihadism and the hatred of our country comes from. I'm not saying we don't contribute to it with some of our policies. But it would be cultural and education. It would be ways of saying to the Muslim world, why do you hate us so much? What is it that we do?

Do you think it would be accepted by the governments in question?

I think so. Does it also involve the United States saying it's important to have democracy in those countries, and women in leadership positions? Yes, I would use that. Is it going to work? Who knows. But what are we doing now? Look at the alternative. People say to me, well, gee, Governor, your plan on Iraq is withdrawal coupled with very aggressive diplomacy. It's going to bring civil war. There is a civil war. There is sectarian violence. Look at our polls, and at America's role in the Muslim world. Who's with us? I mean, my God. What are we known for? We're today known for Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Geneva violations. I want our country to be known for human rights, democracy, trade unionism, and favoring countries that don't violate human rights. That's what I'm for.

REMNICK: Let's have some questions. There's the microphone. Would you state your name and affiliation?

I'm Jerry Cohen of the Council on Foreign Relations at NYU Law School. My wife and I went to North Korea in 1972. I've been back a number of times to train North Koreans in international business law, through the late ‘90s until the Bush administration came on and put what I hope is only a temporary end to that. You didn't mention a return to our policy of normalizing relations with North Korea. Why don't we have an embassy there? That was part of the agreed framework, as you know. Why don't we provide for them to enter the international economic organizations, such as the ADB and the World Bank? They desperately need to be encouraged along these lines, I think on principle.

REMNICK: Let's keep it to a question and not go too long, because we want to give everybody a chance.

Would you comment on what other steps, including timing, we should pursue because timing as you know is crucial.

Thank you.

RICHARDSON: Are you the famous Jerry Cohen of Princeton?


He's the famous Jerry Cohen of NYU. [LAUGHTER]

RICHARDSON: Are you Jerome Cohen?

When you and I met I was at Harvard.

RICHARDSON: Yes. You're a big shot, I know. [LAUGHTER] Look, the answer is yes. I didn't throw it in because I've been so focused on the nuclear issue. Of course normalization makes sense. Of course I think we should have a liaison office. I'd hold out on the embassy until we see some real progress, but yes, more business contacts. In the state of New Mexico, Jerry, we've been training some heart surgeons from North Korea. I think that sort of activity is important. Yes, a liaison office, eventually an embassy. I met with some of the NGO's in North Korea. The North Koreans are kicking them out, and saying to them we need a different kind of aid, when most of their people need food and nutrition. We need an American presence to encourage the North Koreans to keep the UNDP and other entities.

The gentleman in glasses sitting down? You can shout.

DANIEL STERNOFF: I'm Daniel Sternoff of Medley Global Advisors. Governor, I'm very pleased to hear you say that politics stops at the water's edge in bringing Victor Cha along with you on your mission. I'm curious if you think North Korea sees it that way. Why do you think that they reached out to you at this time? Is it a gesture, if not to you, then to the Democratic Party, knowing that this is a lame-duck administration and that in 18 months it's very likely or possible that a Democrat will be in power and in fact they're beginning a negotiation with the future administration through you?

REMNICK: Thank you.

ook, I'm going to give credit to Bush, and the fact that Victor Cha and Princippi and some DOD people helped the mission, absolutely. The North Koreans saw that as a gesture, and they said it. Little things like that are important. Victor Cha, who's the top Korean advisor at the National Security Council, was part of the delegation. We had common talking points. Who as a Democrat wouldn't want them to dismantle their nuclear weapons? I believe that's the reason that they saw this delegation as more effective. In the past, I've managed to get agreements from them and things that are good, I think, for the country. They trust me, because I try to deal with them on an even basis. I don't go in there and say, oh, you guys are doing great. Usually, when I had a back channel with Colin Powell I'd say, hey, you guys have to negotiate. You can't keep doing this. It is not smart to say you want peace and then shoot a nuclear missile, or detonate a nuclear bomb. It's that kind of talk. At the same time, they invite me back. It's the same thing in the Sudan. 10 years ago, before President Clinton named me to the UN, I got three Red Cross workers out of the Sudan, and I got to know the president of Sudan. His name is Bashir, and on the list of the world's worst dictators, he's number one. I'm not saying we established a friendship, but he let those three workers go. So he remembered me, and I didn't trash him after he did it. I said, you know, this was a humanitarian gesture.

At what point, if any, do you stop talking to a dictator? What behavior is unspeakable?

Well, you don't talk to Osama bin Laden.

He doesn't have a state.

There are some cases, but I'm a believer in dialogue. I'm a believer that there's always common ground. If I'm President, I'm going to pursue that. I'm not going to shut out potential negotiations with somebody just because we disagree or we think they exercise bad behavior. I believe that's counterproductive. But there are certain points, obviously. You don't negotiate with terrorists on hostages. But when it comes to common issues affecting nuclear proliferation, or other issues involving national security, I think you try to seek common ground.

REMNICK: Yes, right here.

CONSTANCE SPAHN: I'm Constance Spahn, Off the Record. Governor Richardson, could you comment a little more in that vein about Iran and the situation there?

REMNICK: You mean talking tough with Ahmadinejad?

SPAHN: Yes, and follow up on what you were saying.

REMNICK: There you have a head of state who has made eliminationist remarks about the state of Israel, which is our closest ally in the Middle East. He's a Holocaust denier. What do you do?

RICHARDSON: I don't believe negotiating with him is the best course of action. I mentioned foreign ministry, I mentioned some clerics, I mentioned some inroads with others. Let me just tell you this. Right before I went to the United Nations, I negotiated with the Iranian ambassador here at the UN. His name was Karazi. He then became Foreign Minister. Is he still Foreign Minister?


We were negotiating at the time—this was on the side and approved by President Clinton—on an Israeli pilot by the name of Ron Arad. I was trying to find ways to bring him back. I found him to be reasonable, although when I was Secretary of Energy we were at Davos or something, and I already had my official position. I saw him there and we kind of looked each other. We're about to shake hands. But then he dashed off, and we didn't, which is diplomacy, I guess, or some sort of avoidance diplomacy. I think you build relationships with groups like the Asia Society. You send missions from the Asia Society. You send business missions and students. It's that cultural diplomacy that we seem to have lost. Right now if you look at the cultural diplomacy budget of USIA or whatever it used to be, David, it's been slashed. They've got nothing. They've got a little building with little offices at the State Department. They've been subsumed now, they've got nothing. We ought to be exposing the world to our values and what we think and what we stand for. You know, I would expand foreign aid. This is maybe not going to be popular. I don't see how we can't. But I would shift foreign aid to human needs programs, nutrition, education, renewable energy. Why is it that the Bonos of the world are so popular? They go against some of these international financial-institution structures that create debt among countries and big build infrastructure—roads, bridges. People need food. Look at the man who won the Nobel Prize, Muhammad Yunus. Women getting little businesses. That's what we should be doing. That's what my foreign aid policy would do.

REMNICK: Governor, what's your view of what's happening at the World Bank now? Should Paul Wolfowitz step down? [LAUGHTER]

He probably should.

REMNICK: Yes, sir, against the window there.

I'm Michael Hagan from [INAUDIBLE]. My question implicates in part your views on US energy policy, and in particular how you would address what I would characterize as fragile chameleon states such as Soviet Union and Egypt, which publicly profess to be US allies but internally finance and foment both dissent and terrorists such as the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia.

RICHARDSON: You know, one of my main priorities would be—and this is a domestic and national security issue—the need for America to become energy-independent. We're dependent on countries like Saudi Arabia. I was Secretary of Energy at OPEC. They love the high price! I'd go around and say my God, you know, $27 a barrel, that's so high. Look what it is today. They love it. My point is, do we want to be dependent on the Saudi Arabia, on the Nigerias, on the Venezuelas, on the Iraqs, on the Irans, for an oil supply? We get 65 percent of our oil from them. This is why I believe we need a crash program, led by a President who says to the American people what I say to all of you, I want you to sacrifice a little bit in the name of energy efficiency because it is also national security. That means solar, wind, biomass, fuel cells, distributed generation, 40 miles-per-gallon vehicles, green buildings, green lighting, more efficient air-conditioning. I'm not going to ask you to wear a sweater. But I'm going to say, look, this is an issue that affects all of us. It's called global climate change too. It's called the planet. Pollution is caused by fossil fuels. It's man-made and man-generated negative pollution, and we've got to change. We've got to change our behavior. I'd use the word “sacrifice,” but for the common good. It's probably going to lose some votes, but you know, I just believe we need to do that.

REMNICK: This is the last one, I think, here.

Hi, Rick Hersch of The New Yorker. Could you attempt, Governor, to lift a little of the fog the administration has put on the framework negotiation in North Korea? We've been led to believe the Koreans completely let down and broke the treaty. Isn't there a little of that on both sides, where we failed to deliver on our peaceful nukes? Can you lift some of that fog?

You mean in North Korea?

Yes, the North Korean framework wherein they were going to stop their reactors if we provided them some peaceful reactors, which we failed to do.

RICHARDSON: Yes. Look. I think the deal we negotiated in 1994 with the North Koreans lasted nine years, right? Was it nine years? Dr. Cohen, do you remember? Nine years. During that period, they didn't build any nuclear weapons. None. They didn't enrich any uranium. They started cheating towards the end. Then we said okay, you're cheating. We're not going to give you what we said we would. You know, it became a matter of trust. Then President said, well, they're part of the Axis of Evil. Then, Kim Jong-il's a tyrant. That doesn't help. So the relationship kind of fell apart. Then the South Korean president comes. I met him on this trip, about a week ago. He came to the White House and Colin Powell had basically said, we're going to follow the agreed framework. Then President Bush said to Roh Tae-woo, he said we're against this agreed framework and these past dealing with North Korea, so you shouldn't do it. It was a total reversal. It set off the North Koreans, who are very, very sensitive to these personal situations. It just made things worse. I don't know if I answered your question.

REMNICK: I lied. We have time for one more question, I promise.

MR. DESAI: [INAUDIBLE] Desai with Desai Capital Management. Governor, I'm going to ask you a question that is very difficult. These people have asked you very difficult questions. My question is a very simple one. On major foreign policy issues relating to Asia and the United States, what are the differences between different Democratic candidates? Are there any, and if so could you just explain some of those differences?

Did everybody hear? The gentleman asked what the differences are in foreign policy issues, particularly Asia, between and among the Democratic Party candidates. I would assume that was mainly focused on you, Hillary Clinton, and Barak Obama.

RICHARDSON: All of us in the top tier.

REMNICK: Exactly. [LAUGHTER] That was my implication. [LAUGHTER]

RICHARDSON: There's something I said I was going to do, and I'll stick with it. But I will answer your question. I asked all the Democratic candidates in the second debate to sign a pledge that we wouldn't attack each other. We do that enough as a party. Let's have positive debate and differences on the issues, but let's not do that. Well, only Joe Biden and I signed it, so that didn't go very well. [LAUGHTER]

REMNICK: So you're free. [LAUGHTER] Attack away.

RICHARDSON: We're now getting into the debates, so I'd be able to answer that a little better later. In terms of my foreign policy approach with other candidates, let me just say this, because I believe it's a reason for my candidacy. I've got the most experience. I mean I've been in the House Intelligence Committee, and I've negotiated with foreign countries. I was at the UN, and I was Secretary of Energy. I went with Goldberg to Afghanistan.

REMNICK: Jeff Goldberg, New Yorker. [LAUGHTER]

RICHARDSON: He's a great reporter. He was supposed to do a profile on me for the New York Times then he didn't do it.

REMNICK: Well, it's the New York Times. [LAUGHTER]

RICHARDSON: He was with the Times then. I'm trying to get him to do a new one.

REMNICK: He got a better job.

[LAUGHS] He got a better job. He works for David. So that's my point. I've actually done this. I think one of the major security issues is North Korea, I've got the most experience there. To answer your question a little more, I guess I'm more of a free-trader than some of the other candidates. I've always felt that protectionism doesn't work. I want to see free trade. I want to see fair trade with those conditions I mentioned, such as environmental protection, worker rights, wage disparity issues. I guess when it comes to China, my view is that you've got to recognize that they're a strategic competitor. But in the end I believe they want to compete for the right reasons. I don't see them as a national security threat but I do see them as a competitor. You don't want them to dominate Asia. I think we have to build bridges, and the United States has to be just as involved as we always have been in Asia. I believe on issues like human rights, I'm very strong, but I like to do them in a way that works. That's effectively and quietly. But then, as I said in Burma, quiet diplomacy is okay but don't let it last 25 years with nothing happening. Then you've got to use tools and sanctions. I believe the American-Japanese relationship is one of the most important in the world. I believe that regarding India, Pakistan, South Asia and the subcontinent, as President I would really emphasize those relationships.

Are these differences with Obama and Clinton?

RICHARDSON: Well, I don't know where some of them are on these. I presume, but David, I don't know. Maybe during the debates, you can compare better.

REMNICK: I want to thank Governor Richardson, you've been terrific today, thanks so much. Thanks to the Asia Society. [APPLAUSE]