Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson on Sunday said that on one of several trips he made in recent years to North Korea, a leader from the nation did not deny selling nuclear weapons materials to other countries.
“I remember asking a North Korean leader, I said: ‘Are you guys exporting nuclear materials?’ He said: ‘Maybe. If you continue sanctions, we’ve got to get foreign exchange,’” Mr. Richardson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
While he did not specify when the exchange took place, Mr. Richardson explained that from the North Korean perspective, the sale of highly valuable nuclear material is seen by Pyongyang’s leadership as a way to skirt international sanctions to bring much needed foreign currency into the nation.
His remarks dovetailed with comments made Sunday by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the highest ranking U.S. official ever to make an official visit to North Korea.
“The nuclear programs and technology are basically their cash crop,” said Mrs. Albright, who visited North Korea during 2000 while serving in the Clinton administration, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“It’s the only thing that they have going,” she said.
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Regarding the current wave of antagonistic rhetoric and nuclear threats coming from Pyongyang, Mr. Richardson, also a Democrat, said that “probably the longer-range threat is the spread of nuclear materials.”
“What you don’t want is North Korea selling enriched uranium to Iran,” he said.
Mrs. Albright, meanwhile, spoke candidly of her 2000 visit to Pyongyang, saying that during roughly 12 hours of talks, she engaged in a “sane discussion” Kim Jong-il — the father of current 28-year-old leader Kim Jong-un — about missile moratoriums and a wide range of other issues, including the presence of U.S. military forces in South Korea.
“The problem was that they are in some kind of delusional denial in terms of how the rest of the people in North Korea are living,” she said. “So while we were having fancy dinners, I knew that the North Korean people were eating bark off the trees.”
But the point, Mrs. Albright added, was that “we were talking,” and while the North Korea leadership has a “tendency to lie” about their nuclear program, “I believe that talking to them is important, and if they were to return to the agreements that they made in 2005, we should be willing to talk to them.”
“Talking is actually a form of trying to solve problems,” she added.
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Both Mrs. Albright and Mr. Richardson suggested that the immediate motivations behind the recent wave of actions and threats made by Kim Jong-un could be linked to North Korea’s domestic political situation.
“Primarily this is about Kim Jong-un trying to establish his position internally,” Mrs. Albright said. “A lot of this is domestically motivated in terms of whether he’s in charge or the military’s in charge or the people around him are in charge, and I think we have to see it from a domestic political perspective.”