Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's foundation, aimed at rescuing political prisoners, was involved in securing American student Otto Warmbier's release from North Korea, which he considered a "semi-success" mitigated by "tragedy."
"The tragedy is he is not well," the founder of The Richardson Center told Sunday's "The Cats Roundtable."
"North Korea has a lot of explaining to do. Why didn't they notify the United States. Why didn't they notify proper medical authorities, the Swedish government that represents us."
Richardson's foundation was involved in 20 meetings in New York "trying to press for his release" and sent a private delegation late last year to North Korea, as also reported by The Wall Street Journal.
"I consider this case of Otto Warmbier a semi-success because we were involved," Richardson told host John Catsimatidis. "Credit has to go to the State Department. I'm not taking that away."
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But Richardson did confirm to the Sunday morning talk show his center aided in the process as a private facilitator, but he laments North Korea's silence amid the attempted back-channel diplomacy.
"We know very little about this North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, other than he is unpredictable, brash and might be cruel – might be awfully cruel if our young men might be treated the way he was," Richardson said, calling the North Korea explanation Warmbier contracted botulism and took a sleeping pill, slipping into a coma, is "very flimsy."
". . . There is some speculation maybe he was tortured, beaten, we don't know, John. The tragedy is the North Korean's did not tell the United States for a full year. They didn't tell my delegation, a private delegation. They didn't tell us in our meetings with the North Koreans in New York, 20 times in the last year. They didn't tell the State Department until the last minute."
This situation will make future diplomacy with North Korea difficult, particularly amid rising military tensions in the Korean Peninsula.
"This is not a very good situation to try to improve the relations with North Korea, when they treat our people like this," he added, reminding three other political prisoners remain there.
Richardson also said "we need mediators, conciliators," which could include China.
"I hope that President Trump and the United States continue to pressure China to do more to get North Korea to start behaving, but so far they have only done so much, and it's not enough," Richardson said.
Diplomacy over dangerous military action is the way to go, despite the unpredictability of the regime.
"Eventually we're going to have to make a deal, and it's going to be very difficult because of this man Kim Jung Un," Richardson said. "And that deal has got to involve a reduction of their missile activity – termination of that, possibly – and in exchange, China, U.S., Russia, all of us, have got to probably give them some food, some energy assistance – I think eventually diplomacy.
"But it's not easy. There are a lot of bad options when you deal with North Korea."
Former basketball player Dennis Rodman's simultaneous visit to North Korea – the only American to meet with Kim Jung Un – had nothing to do with Warmbier's release, Richardson said.
"I have mixed reactions to Rodman going, buy maybe he's going to say something to Rodman that could be useful," Richardson said.
"Rodman was not involved in the release, but he's got a channel there, and maybe he'll come back and say something that sheds some light on why this man in North Korea is so erratic."
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