WASHINGTON: Former US ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson has negotiated with many of the world's pariah leaders, from Saddam Hussein to Myanmar's military dictators to former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Richardson, who has visited the North several times, had some choice words of advice for President Donald Trump about agreeing to a summit with current leader Kim Jong Un: It's a bold move, but this isn't reality television -- get a team and a strategy.
He spoke to AFP from his home in New Mexico.
What to make of Kim-Trump summit move?
"I was extremely surprised. It's a huge gamble, a big risk, but worth taking... Things couldn't possibly be worse than they are right now in terms of the relationship and tension in the Korean peninsula," Richardson said.
"It's a real opportunity... I worry about the president's unpreparedness and lack of discipline. But I commend him for this very bold move in accepting the invitation.
"But this is not 'The Apprentice' or a reality TV event. It's a negotiation with an unpredictable leader who has at least 20 nuclear weapons and who threatens the United States."
What kind of deal is possible?
Richardson said any deal will take a long time.
"This is so unusual in diplomacy. It's usually from the bottom up," he added.
"Our goal should be denuclearization, but I don't believe it's realistic. Curbs and freezes on North Korea's nuclear, ballistic and conventional forces should be pushed extremely hard."
The retired diplomat said a "goodwill gesture" by Pyongyang would be to send back three Americans it is holding prisoner, and release the remains of US soldiers killed there during the Korean War.
"We should recognize that North Korea's going to want something in return," he noted.
Is Kim Jong Un reliable?
At just 34, Kim "is unpredictable, sometimes irrational. But he's been underestimated," Richardson said.
"I've long thought he had an agenda, an end-game, and it's obvious that he does. He's evolved from a bomb-throwing leader to a man with a strategic vision. He has been quite successful recently in initiating diplomacy with South Korea at the Olympics.
"They've always wanted an agreement with the US. The summit request is part of North Korea's effort to say, 'We are major players and you have to deal with us.'"
However, Richardson added, "We should make sure we don't fall into a trap set by the North Koreans, who are very good at negotiating deals and then withdrawing."
Can Trump pull this off?
Richardson said his main worry is that Trump agreed to the summit "on the seat of his pants."
"He's got to have a strategy and I worry that this turmoil in the White House and his own style is not going to be enough... He can't keep shooting from the hip, tweeting," Richardson said.
"The secretary of state needs to lead these discussions. There should be military representation. The president needs to assemble a team and a coherent strategy.
"This is not reality TV, but a major negotiation on the hottest national security crisis in the world today."
Richardson added: "The smartest thing President Trump should do, he should call in president Bush, and president Clinton, and tap them for their expertise. He shouldn't do it alone."