CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Bill Richardson
Date: Dec. 17, 2010
Location: Unknown

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GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, I'm very concerned, because my objection initially was to tamp things down, cool things down.

My sense is that the North Koreans are very concerned about this possible exercise that is coming up between Saturday and Tuesday, although the South Koreans claim it is routine, supervised by the U.S.

I have urged maximum restraint. I have said to them, look, you proceeded with this artillery shell before. You killed some civilians. You also went forward with the sinking of the ship, the enriched uranium increases. You have got to cool down.

I think that I made a little headway. But the big response is going to be today in a couple of hours. I met with Kim Kye-Gwan, who is the special adviser to Kim Jong Il, the president, the top nuclear negotiator, and then tomorrow with the head of the military.

So, right now, my objective is to say, tamp things down, let the routine exercise take place, if it does. There is enormous tension. There is potential for miscalculation. Just cool things down. And maybe here, although I'm not acting officially representing the U.S. government, there's some ways that we can take steps to send a message that North Korea is ready for serious negotiations to reduce and terminate its nuclear arsenal.

BLITZER: Because, Governor, the South Koreans say they are going to go ahead with this exercise. The North Koreans have issued a statement, a public statement, saying if they do, they will take military action.

Are you now urging the North Koreans not to take any action, to show constraint, or are you urging the South Koreans to delay their exercise?

RICHARDSON: Well, what I am urging -- I'm here with the North Koreans, so this is where I can hopefully make a difference. I'm urging them extreme restraint.

Now, last night, I was very, very strong with the North Korean Foreign Ministry officials. They gave us a dinner. And I'm going to do it again today.

In other words, let's cool things down, no response. Let the exercises take place. But, on all sides, I'm urging restraint. I saw that an American general is urging restraint on the South Koreans. I think that is encouraging. That is a positive.

But, right now, this is a tinderbox. And what we need to do is not just tamp things down, but look at steps that can taken by the North Koreans especially, such as perhaps allowing IAEA inspectors to come in to look at the nuclear arsenal, perhaps finding ways for responses between the North and South to avert any kind of altercation like we are having today, perhaps look at ways, also, that both sides can have some kind of a summit, some kind of direct discussions, North and South, about ways that the situation can cool down, because it is a tinderbox.

It is very sensitive. And so we have to, I think, address this immediate concern. And I'm going to do this in a couple of hours with Kim Kye-Gwan, who is a key player here, urging restraint, leave things alone, let things be, let things cool down.

BLITZER: What about the military? You are having a major meeting tomorrow that's now been scheduled -- it was not on your original schedule -- with top North Korean military officials. How unusual is this for you -- and you have been here several times -- to meet with North Korean military officials?

RICHARDSON: Well, it is unusual, because primarily when I visit here and when Americans visit, they have met with Foreign Ministry officials.

Meeting a top military person is significant, because the military on many of these drills and obviously in formulating national security policy in North Korea plays a major, major role. And so I consider this meeting tomorrow morning significant. It is an offline meeting that we asked for and they agreed to do.

So, hopefully, we can keep things from firing up, because I am concerned. And I will do my best. And, again, it's a good thing that I'm here, I believe, because my sense from the North Koreans is they are trying to find ways to tamp this down in this conversation that I had yesterday.

So, maybe that will continue today. That is my hope. But I am concerned.

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