North Korean leader Kim Jong un is using 85-year-old Korean War veteran Merrill Newman and another American as pawns in a game with the United States — but the stakes remain unclear, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson says.
"The North Koreans are up to something. They want these two Americans as bargaining chips," Richardson told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
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"Hopefully, they'll make a move soon and we'll get these two Americans out," Richardson said.
Last month, officials arrested Newman while he was on a plane about to leave after a closely watched and guided 10-day tour of North Korea, six decades after fighting in the Korean War. He was detained for alleged war crimes and "hostile acts" during his service in the early 1950s.
And Christian missionary Kenneth Bae has been imprisoned at a labor camp for more than a year for alleged plots against the government.
The White House has urged North Korea to release both men.
Richardson, author of the new book, "How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories from a Master Negotiator,"
said the detentions show Kim "getting himself firmly in control — and I don't think we should underestimate him."
"He's young, but he's purged a lot of the old military leaders that were loyal to his father. He's bringing his own people in, consolidating power. What is bizarre is the way they've treated this Merrill Newman, who's a war veteran, 85 years old, heart condition. He was there legitimately.
"I guess they found something in his war record that they didn't like, but it shows that this new leadership, they're not following the patterns that they had before like when I was negotiating," the former governor said.
Richardson said he had helped get several hostages out of North Korea in the past.
"But there was always a pattern. The pattern was there's a confession, they apprehend them, but then they negotiate with high-profile people and they leave," he said.
"In this case, there are two American detainees and the North Koreans, they're acting very strange. They took Merrill Newman off the plane. He was leaving Pyongyang. So it's a big uncertainty.
"I went to North Korea in February with the head of Google, with Eric Schmidt, but the North Korean leader wouldn't see us. He saw [basketball legend] Dennis Rodman."
Richardson believes that Rodman, who has made several trips to North Korea and considers Kim a close friend, is not helping in getting the two men released.
"I thought [Rodman] would be helpful, but I don't think so. It doesn't seem like Rodman is trying to help get Merrill Newman out or Kenneth Bae out. I wish he would," he said.
"I thought at the time it would be because he's the only guy that'll talk to Kim Jung un.''
Richardson said negotiating requires a cool and calm head, a factor that can make or break a deal.
He said he unsuccessfully attempted to get U.S. contractor Alan Gross released from Cuba where he has been imprisoned for four years — but failed because he wasn't patient enough and went to the press.
Gross was accused of bringing satellite phones and computer equipment to members of Cuba’s Jewish community without permission.
"I feel a lot for [his wife] Judy Gross. I met her, I talked to her. I mean, her husband has been unfairly incarcerated but I wish I hadn't lost my cool," Richardson said.
"Sometimes you can't go public, you can't show your emotion. You've got to be very restrained and careful when you're negotiating."
Richardson's new book, written with Kevin Bleyer, is published by Rodale.
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