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Bill Richardson On North Korea's Big Display


Now, one of President Trump's newly adjusted positions concerns North Korea. He used to think that China could easily solve that problem on the Korean Peninsula. And now, as he's told The Wall Street Journal, he realizes it's not so easy. Governor Bill Richardson knows that, as well. He's researched the North Korean regime and has famously negotiated with them. He joins us on the line now. Welcome to the program.

BILL RICHARDSON: Thank you very much, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Earlier this week on CNN, Governor Richardson, you said you think President Trump's foreign policy is starting to move in what you would see as the right direction. You feel that way specifically about the U.S. position towards Pyongyang.

RICHARDSON: Well, I do think that it's so far been restrained. It has been basically saying that the past policy of strategic patience, which was basically more sanctions, shows of force, needed an addition. That addition is strong pressure from China. And I think that is the right way to go, the right option, because China contains a lot of food, economic assistance, energy assistance to North Korea, leverage that they can use. Hopefully, they're going to do that. I think Trump has moved and pushed the Chinese to do that.

What I'm concerned about is this talk in the Trump administration about preemptive strikes. I think that would be a disaster. We've got 28,000 troops in South Korea - Americans - 50,000 in Japan. We've got a tinderbox situation. The South Koreans would be probably attacked - 25 million in Seoul. So I think we need diplomacy. We need a strategy. And while I think going on a strategic patience makes sense the past policy, we don't have a coherent diplomatic strategy to deal with North Korea.

WERTHEIMER: Are there any signs, do you think, that China would do what the president wants and put pressure on North Korea so that it might abandon its nuclear weapons program?

RICHARDSON: Well, the signs might be that if the president did say that he would not name them as a currency manipulator, that there would be some trade incentives, possibly China would be in a position to exert more pressure on North Korea. The big issue is, why would China really want to help us? They like the turbulence in the region. They're our rivals in the region. They don't want refugees from North Korea, from a regime change, coming to China. So China has liked stability, but, you know, when we have a missile arrangement with South Korea, we're agitating militarily more in the region, I think China has to think twice. So I think the first test should be, before we start launching any military strikes, is see if some of this pressure on China is working, see if they start changing their policy because for them, instability in the region caused by North Korea's ballistic missile test, their nuclear test, that's not good for them either.

WERTHEIMER: Did you - did you draw any - anything optimistic from the meeting with the Chinese leader?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think the optimistic side was that they've seen the part in a positive way, that they've had phone calls since that meeting, that they're coordinating. I think the big danger is North Korea conducting some kind of a test this weekend to celebrate the grandfather's birthday - 105th birthday. And I think there will be some kind of a test, some kind of a missile test. And the question is how are we going to respond? How will the United States and China and South Korea respond? And I think it's very important that we be restrained, that we perhaps increase sanctions. China has that leverage through banks, through energy. That - a show of force probably by the United States makes sense, continuing the aircraft carriers there...


RICHARDSON: ...Increasing sanctions at the United Nations. But I think a military strike, a preemptive strike - that should not be in the cards. And then eventually, Linda, I think we need to deal with North Korea.

WERTHEIMER: Governor Richardson, thank you very much.

RICHARDSON: Thank you very much, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.