Bill has gone toe-to-toe with some of the world's toughest characters
-- Saddam Hussein, North Korean generals, Burmese military leaders,
Sudanese President al-Bashir and Fidel Castro -- to name a few.
Presidents, Secretaries of State, and Prime Ministers soon came to know
Bill as the go-to guy for tough hostage negotiations.
In 1994, Bill was on a fact-finding mission in North Korea when he learned that the North Koreans shot down a U.S. Army helicopter that had strayed into their airspace. President Clinton asked Bill to stay in North Korea until he got the soldiers out, and he went right to work. After days of tense discussions and stonewalling by the North Koreans, the world learned that pilot David Hilemon died when the helicopter went down, but that Bobby Hall, his co-pilot, was fine. Richardson refused to leave North Korea until he secured Hilemon's remains, and Bobby Hall was released a few weeks later.
The next year, two American contractors got lost in the Iraqi desert by mistakenly crossing the border and were arrested as spies by Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. The negotiations weren't going well and Bill was sent to see what he could do. Bill met with Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations, and Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister -- but the discussions kept stalling. Saddam would make the final decision, so a resolution depended on Bill's ability to negotiate a meeting and convince Saddam himself to release the hostages.
Bill traveled to Baghdad and met with Saddam and Aziz in one of the Royal Palaces. Saddam kept stalling for concessions and refused to consider release at first, but Bill eventually convinced Saddam to do the right thing. The two Americans were released to Bill and were home days later.
Governor Richardson knows the Middle East, and he knows diplomacy can work there -- he has done it before. Bill's understanding of the Middle East, and his belief in international diplomacy, have come together to form Bill's plan for Iraq. He knows that the only way to begin to stabilize Iraq, and the entire region, is for all American troops to be withdrawn. Once we are completely out of Iraq, then the hard diplomatic work must begin. (Click here to read more about Bill's 7 Point Plan for Iraq.)
Every time Bill would go on one of his diplomatic international adventures his mother would ask him, "Why do you have to go Billy? Can't they find someone else?" Bill Richardson has never been content to leave the hard work to someone else. It surprised some outside observers that a relatively young Congressman from New Mexico would be the one to travel around the world, put his life on the line and negotiate with dictators. But those who know Bill Richardson know that he's always trying to focus on how to make the biggest difference -- not just for his constituents at home, but for people around the world.
Governor Richardson's diplomatic missions have given him valuable first-hand experiences in some of the world's most dangerous places -- and in areas that America must focus on as we move deeper into the 21st century.