TIME politics

Bill Richardson: 5 Steps for Engaging With North Korea

North Korea isn't Iran

Reports that North Korea has ruled out denuclearization talks following the signing of the Iran nuclear agreement should come as no surprise. Nor should these reports discourage the U.S. and other world powers from engaging Pyongyang. The initial objective of this engagement should be to halt testing of nuclear devices, stop the launching of ballistic missiles, and prevent proliferation.

In order to successfully engage with North Korea, one has to keep in mind several perspectives. First, saying they are not interested in talks does not necessarily mean the North Koreans are not interested in engaging. In fact, I believe North Korea is interested, but wants the engagement to be on its terms and acknowledging its status.

The North Koreans are following recent U.S. engagement strategy very closely: in Myanmar, Cuba and now Iran. The engagement momentum itself should be used to spark conversations.

Second, no individual wants to hear he is just like another—neither do countries nor their leaders. A sure way to fail engagement with the North Koreans is to tell them they are just like Iranians. They are not: different countries, different cultures, different history, different status, and different neighborhoods.

Third, while we do not have to accept it, we do have to understand the North Korean narrative. North Korean leadership believes the world looks to harm them, and they have some historic evidence to demonstrate that. They are not bluffing. This sentiment is real. There is not much anyone can say or do to convince them otherwise. As a result, they believe that their nuclear deterrence is essential for their survival and protection.

Understanding this narrative can help us better assess what is possible and what is not in the near term with North Korea. As much as the U.S. and world powers would like to negotiate denuclearization with North Korea today, a more realistic initial objective is to halt testing of nuclear devices, stop the launching of ballistic missiles, and prevent proliferation. This would allow the North Koreans to keep their sense of security and deterrence, increasing chances of an agreement that will be kept.

Fourth, on their part, the North Koreans must acknowledge that the mistrust is mutual. Previous agreements have failed. Thus, any negotiated agreement will have to include significant inspection and enforcement mechanisms. While this is a hard pill to swallow for a proud leadership, it is the only way to have a sustainable agreement.

Fifth, building trust is very difficult and takes a lot of time, let alone doing so under an environment of crisis. To that end, my center, the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, has been engaging with Pyongyang on humanitarian assistance projects. I have visited North Korea nine times throughout my career. I negotiated the release of prisoners, helped reduce tensions with the South at pivotal times, and my center assisted with food supply to orphanages and children with disabilities. One of the most meaningful projects I have led was the recovery of remains of American servicemen missing in action. Recovering and returning these remains had both an emotional and symbolic meaning to all parties involved. Renewing this program can be a great way to reignite engagement with Pyongyang.

The momentum created by the renewed U.S. strategy of engagement with countries it previously isolated is important. The U.S. and the world powers should use this momentum to engage with Pyongyang, and do so smartly and pragmatically. The longer we wait, the more isolated the North Koreans might feel, and their reaction might be counter-productive to such dialogue.

TIME world affairs

Bill Richardson: Obama Administration Policy on North Korea Is Not Working

Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico, in an interview on January 13, 2015.
CNBC—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico, in an interview on January 13, 2015.

Bill Richardson is the former governor of New Mexico.

"We have to do more to engage North Korea"

Reports that North Korea is expanding its nuclear arsenal in the Korean Peninsula are not surprising. North Korea under Kim Jong Un has engaged in this military and nuclear buildup relentlessly. He made it very clear when he came to power three years ago that this was a major priority.

Reports like these surface when North Koreans feel they’ve been upstaged in the world. In this case, they’ve been upstaged by the Iran nuclear negotiations. They want to send a message to say, “We’re still around. We’re still players. And you have to deal with us.”

Unlike Iran, getting North Korea to terminate its nuclear program is much harder because it’s suspected that the country already has about a dozen nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are North Korea’s card to get some kind of concessions from the other countries engaged in the six-party talks to dismantle the country’s program—the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

What is different this time then in the past is that China used to have leverage over North Korea because they provided the country with food, fuel, and assistance. But now the North Koreans aren’t listening to anybody. They’re going on their own.

The Obama administration’s policy of strategic patience with North Korea is not working. The danger is not that they’re going to attack us or our allies, but that they’re going to sell enriched uranium to bad actors—to al-Qaeda, to Pakistan, to Iran, to ISIS.

It’s important that the Obama administration engage North Korea in some kind of negotiation like Iran’s. In exchange for reducing their nuclear arsenal, we should make a deal so that North Koreans get foods, fuel, and humanitarian assistance. The country is falling apart economically.

Our policies have generally been OK, but we have to do more to engage North Korea. Otherwise, we’re going to concentrate so much on the Middle East that we’re going to lose sight of a potential tinderbox in Northeast Asia.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

American Competitiveness Can’t Wait for Immigration Reform

LA May Day Marches Celebrate Workers, Push For Immigration Reform
David McNew—Getty Images Marchers pass by the Metropolitan Detention Center during one a several May Day immigration-themed events on May 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

Skilled international workers, tired of waiting, often leave the U.S. and put their knowledge and skills to use elsewhere.

Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd of business leaders this month that “something’s wrong with us” when America must look overseas to fill critical jobs requiring science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.

As proud Latino Americans from opposite ends of the political spectrum, we believe policymakers must set aside partisan acrimony to fix our nation’s broken immigration system.

Independent studies have shown that comprehensive immigration reform will boost economic growth, reduce the deficit and stoke the creative fires that burn in our entrepreneurial American spirit. It’s also the right thing to do.

We have served presidents of opposing parties and have a first-hand understanding of the deep political rift in our country over this critical issue. But there is a path forward that we believe both parties are ready to travel during the 113th Congress. Voices of reason in Washington—including in the House of Representatives—are arguing it’s high time for a “grand bargain” on immigration.

First, let’s deal with the elephant in the room: it’s time to bring the 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. Both parties understand this political and moral imperative, even as they quibble over the details. Additionally, we must continue to invest in the security of our borders, even if we disagree over how best to achieve that goal.

One immediate benefit of comprehensive reform will be the much-needed transformation of our broken visa system, which places arbitrary caps on the number of foreign workers invited to help grow our economy and keep the U.S. globally competitive.

Both parties agree there aren’t enough U.S.-born workers with the requisite science and technology skills to meet the needs of today’s information economy. While policymakers pursue education reform to close this enduring knowledge gap, our immigration system is preventing the best and brightest international talent from filling demand, making the U.S. less competitive today.

We need to look no further than last month’s filing season for temporary skilled worker visas to understand why this issue is crucial: the government received 172,500 H-1B visa applications in just five days, more than double the 85,000 annual cap under current law.

Last June, the Senate passed a broad immigration reform bill that contains many of the right policies, including an increase in the H-1B visa cap. But their effort to reform the H-1B visa process was marred by the inclusion of anti-competitive language.

What is wrong with the Senate bill? The Senate language discriminates against employers with higher proportions of H-1B workers, unfairly targeting many companies in the information technology (IT) services market, which relies on a global talent pool. It forces major U.S. companies who rely on IT service providers, including most of the Fortune 500, to take one of three actions: bring their IT work in-house, if they actually find enough qualified talent; move the work offshore, which some American businesses have said they are already preparing for; or choose from a shrunken pool of IT providers that escape the arbitrary restrictions. All three options will reduce competition, raise prices and disrupt essential technical support in sectors ranging from financial services to life sciences.

The House Judiciary Committee has offered a smarter path forward, maximizing the competitive value of H-1B reform to the U.S. economy. The House bill would boost the annual cap on temporary H-1B visas for skilled workers from 85,000 to 195,000, including setting aside up to 40,000 visas for individuals with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The House language keeps the H-1B process open and competitive for all companies, raising all boats.

As policymakers move toward an eventual compromise in conference, they must reject harmful Senate-passed restrictions on who can actually use these visas, which would hinder U.S. competitiveness.

At the same time, policymakers should adopt measures the Senate bill got right, including an expansion of the 140,000 annual green card cap for skilled workers, which includes an exemption for advanced science and technology degree-holders from U.S. universities, as well as cap exemptions for the families of workers admitted to the U.S. on permanent visas. The Senate bill rightly recaptures unused visas from prior years, which would eliminate the backlog of those waiting to receive green cards.

According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, international skilled workers “often tire of waiting, and leave the U.S. entirely to put their knowledge and skills to use in other countries eager to compete with and surpass the U.S.” Global rivals such as Canada have made no secret of their willingness to welcome those turned away by the broken U.S. visa system. Brain drain aggravates our skills gap.

The House and Senate need to work out their differences in the normal give and take of the legislative process – the way Americans expect Washington to operate. For the sake of U.S. businesses, talented international workers and the 11 million undocumented living in the shadows, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. American competitiveness can no longer afford to wait.

Bill Richardson is the former U.S. Energy Secretary, Governor of New Mexico and UN Ambassador. Rosario Marin served as the 41st Treasurer of the United States. They serve as co-chairs of the American Competitiveness Alliance.

TIME energy

Bill Richardson: Our Best Response to Russia Is Energy Security

Gov. Bill Richardson
Peter Foley—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Washington must leverage our energy bounty to advance our foreign policy goals.

In the short term, the key questions surrounding the crisis in the Ukraine involve whether Russia’s expansionist tendencies will continue in the Ukraine after the Crimean vote and, subsequently, the effectiveness and intensity of the American and European sanctions in the ensuing weeks.

Longer term, America and the West need to take several steps: As a starter, the U.S. should consider bringing back the anti-missile defense in Poland; additionally, it should ensure the Ukrainian defense forces are strengthened, and it should also re-evaluate increasing defense support for strong U.S.-friendly countries like Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Lithuania.

But the most powerful response from the West must come in the form of transatlantic energy security. The importance of European and Eurasian energy independence from Russia has only increased over time. Both regions have been taking measured steps to reduce their dependence on Russia, especially after the Russia-Ukraine gas disputes of 2006 and 2009, which left much of Europe under-heated in those winters.

The pace of these efforts must increase rapidly. We know how to do this. Back in the 1990s one of my main assignments when I was Secretary of Energy was creating the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, running from the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to the Mediterranean. So I know that Europeans and Americans can work together to create strategically sound solutions to provide reliable sources of energy to Europe and Eurasia. Transatlantic energy security has never been fully achieved, however, because Russia’s tactics in politicizing natural gas exports have worked. And they will continue to work in strengthening Russia’s influence until Berlin, Brussels, and Washington are on the same page.

Strongly supporting projects, such as the Trans-Adriatic and Anatolian Pipelines to extend the East-West energy corridor (connecting the Caucasus and Central Asia to world markets), is not just important for securing regional independence from Russia. These projects are in the West’s long-term interests as well.

At the same time, Washington is deciding whether it will leverage the United States’ energy bounty in order to advance its foreign policy goals during the most serious East-West crisis in a generation. The United States’ shale gas revolution has boosted its economic competitiveness and helped reduce U.S. carbon emissions to their lowest levels in 20 years. Exporting this natural gas would decrease European and Eurasian dependence on Russia, empowering U.S allies while sending Moscow a clear signal of the seriousness we place on transatlantic energy security.

Achieving a transatlantic energy security strategy in coordination with key countries in the region, such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Poland, would be a very important step toward ensuring that the region can be truly free from undue interference from Russia.

Playing the long game and focusing on the energy trends that are working in our favor will be critical for the West. Now is the time for some old-fashioned diplomacy, working with our allies to craft solutions that achieve greater independence from Russia. The best place to start is with transatlantic energy security.

In the end, after all the smoke clears, both the U.S. and Russia need to build a more mature and cooperative relationship. The world does not need another Cold War.

Bill Richardson is a former Secretary of Energy and Ambassador to the U.N.

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