Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr Biography » Bill Richardson: 1947—: Politician Biography - Gave Up Baseball For Political Science, Began Career In Politics, Won Congressional Seat, Had Long Career In Congress

Bill Richardson: 1947—: Politician - Became Unofficial U.s. Ambassador

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As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Richardson traveled around the world on international fact-finding missions, and he soon earned a reputation for his abilities as an unofficial emissary for U.S. interests in unfriendly territories. In 1994 he traveled to Burma to work for the release of the Burmese opposition leader, Nobel-prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been under house arrest since 1989. Leading a United Nations (UN) delegation, Richardson and a New York Times reporter were able to arrange to meet with Suu Kyi for over five hours. Although nothing came directly from the meeting, the encounter did instigate further diplomatic activity that led to Suu Kyi's release the following year. Following his trip to Burma, Richardson's innate desire to appease all sides—a trait that some considered a strength and others, weak-ness—was also receiving attention. Calling for sanction against the government in front of human rights groups, Richardson would speak of the need to remain open when talking with leaders of the Burmese junta.

Following his trip to Burma in February of 1994, Richardson undertook a mission to North Korea in December of 1994. At issue was the North Korean government's sincerity in abiding by the pact it had made with the United States to freeze its nuclear weapons program. By coincidence, while Richardson was in North Korea, a U.S. military helicopter crashed north of the demilitarized zone. One crewman died, and the other was being held in Pyongyang. Richardson immediately informed the North Korean government that he would discuss nothing but the release of the U.S. pilot and the return of the remains of the crewman. The North Koreans continued to push talks on the arms agreement, but Richardson stubbornly refused, until tensions grew to the point that he was asked to leave the country. Holding his ground, Richardson refused to leave. Running up a $10,000 telephone bill with the U.S. State Department, Richardson worked tirelessly to secure the pilot's release. Three days, with negotiations in place, Richardson returned to the United States with the crewman's body. Several days later the pilot was released.

One of Richardson's most high profile diplomatic trips came in July of 1995 when he met with Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Richardson arrived to discuss the release of two U.S. engineers, who had been imprisoned four months earlier after becoming lost and accidentally crossing the border from Kuwait into Iraq. Richardson's meeting with Hussein did not begin smoothly when Richardson unknowingly insulted Hussein by crossing his legs and showing the Iraq leader the soles of his feet. Hussein left the room but eventually returned. After a 90-minute discussion, Hussein agreed to release the engineers, successfully placing another feather in Richardson's cap.

Richardson was in flight again in December of 1996, this time traveling to the Sudan to negotiate the release of three Red Cross workers who had been taken hostage by rebel leader Kerubino Kwanyin Bol after their plane crashed. Later he was praised for his success in securing the release of the Red Cross workers, as well as five Sudanese who had also been on the plane. Richardson also received criticism for his friendly demeanor toward rebels known for committing crimes and atrocities, and for conceding to give the rebels jeeps, radios, and rice in exchange for the prisoners. Yet Richardson defended his negotiating style by noting that a good negotiator who does whatever gets results. He told Fortune: "You have to respect the other side's point of view. You have to know what makes your adversary tick. Certainly you want to have a goal. You want to come out of a meeting with something, even if it's only a second meeting. And basically you have to use every single negotiating technique you know—bluster, reverence, humor."


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