Fletcher Class Day

Richardson calls for bilateral talks with North Korea

Calling North Korea “one of our greatest foreign policy challenges,” New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson called for bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea.

Bill Richardson was the keynote speaker at the Fletcher School’s Class Day. © Ellen Callaway

Speaking May 21 during the Fletcher School’s Class Day ceremonies, Richardson, A70, F71, said, “I am sure [Fletcher] Dean [Stephen] Bosworth [a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea] joins me in feeling some frustration with how the Bush administration is choosing to deal with North Korea.”

Richardson’s speech began on a light note. In introducing the governor, who is often mentioned as a vice presidential candidate, Bosworth said that Richardson “had not yet reached his final destination.” Much to the delight of the audience, Richardson replied, “I agree with that introduction and more.”

Turning to more serious subjects, Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, acknowledged the difficulties in dealing with Kim Jong Il, who is widely regarded as a mercurial dictator. “I agree that the North Koreans are difficult to read, and in fact, they are probably the most difficult people I have ever negotiated with,” he said. “But I did negotiate with them during the Clinton administration and was successful. I believe we can hold bilateral talks and achieve a productive outcome.” While a congressman, he served as a special U.S. envoy on many sensitive international missions. As an eight-term Democratic congressman representing northern New Mexico, Richardson won the release of hostages, American servicemen, and prisoners in North Korea, Iraq and Cuba while serving as a special U.S. envoy.

Richardson also called on the news media, the United States and, more broadly, the international community, to make the developing world, particularly Africa and Asia, a greater priority. He noted that two-thirds of the world’s poor are concentrated in Africa and Asia, and half the people in the world—3 billion people—live on less than $2 a day. And of children born into the developing world, one in three doesn’t have adequate shelter; one in five has no access to safe drinking water; and one in seven can’t get health services.

“Our global challenges are infinite,” said Richardson, who is a Tufts trustee. “And these are problems that affect us all. So I believe we should solve them with a collaborative approach in the world community.”

At a time when the Bush administration has sharply criticized the United Nations and nominated John Bolton, a staunch conservative, to be the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Richardson, who served in that position during the Clinton administration, gave the U.N. a ringing endorsement: “I believe the U.N. is an effective mechanism for peacekeeping missions, reducing global poverty, fighting the spread of hunger, battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic and violence against women and providing emergency relief for refugees and natural disaster victims. Despite its current problems, the U.N. can be an important vehicle for advancing global interests,” he said.

Known for his congeniality and self-deprecating humor, Richardson departed from his prepared remarks to recall his days as a “mediocre student at Fletcher.” He joked that he was the last one from the class list who was admitted: “Somebody passed away, and I took his spot,” he said.

He also paid tribute to his former professor, Robert Pfaltzgraff, an expert on internationally security. “Dr. Pfaltzgraff would express his frustration with me: ‘The UN can’t resolve the problems in Europe. That’s NATO’s job,’ ” he would say. Then Richardson added, “It’s taken me 30 years to say thank you.”