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Former UN Amb. Bill Richardson on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and Why He's Still Not 'Ready For Hillary'

PoliticKING with Larry KingJul 18 '14

Former UN Amb. Bill Richardson joins Larry with his take on who's right & who's wrong in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and why he blames the Tea Party for the humanitarian crisis on the U.S. southern border. Plus, why he's still not 'Ready For Hillary'


KING: Welcome to PoliticKing, I’m Larry King. With all that’s happening in the world today and in theUnited States, there are few people better qualified to assess these issues than my old friend and our guest, Bill Richardson, who served two terms as democratic governor in New Mexico, as US ambassadors to the UN and was also secretary of energy in the Clinton administration. He’s currently chairman of APCO Worldwide's global political strategy’s group and he joins me from Washington. Bill I think for over 30 years you and I have been talking about the middle east and now we have another tremendous, tremendous controversy going on. Israel now agrees to a humanitarian pause in the air strikes after those four children, terrible tragedy, were killed in Gaza. Over 200 Palestinians have been killed, 1 Israeli, Hamas declines an Egyptians offer, what’s your assessment of all of this?

RICHARDSON: Well, the good news, Larry, in this turmoil, in this tragedy, is that Egypt is stepping up and playing the role of a mediator as it did before. Trying to be moderate, trying to be helpful to a potential ceasefire,peace process, that’s one good point. The second good point is that, actually the military operations of Israel, I think have brought Hamas to some kind of bargaining table position. I think the initial offer that Hamas put out was really unacceptable, their conditions for a ceasefire.But you know Larry,the whole region is in turmoil, we’ve got the situation in Syria. What we don't want is this turmoil to accelerate for this Israeli Hamas dispute to become regional, to bring Lebanon, to bring Syria in, to bringIran in, I think this is a test also of Iran, wanting to make sure, we should want to make sure Iran doesn't mess around and keeps helping the Hamas’ of the world. But it's a very tense situation, but I think, if anything Israel and Egypt have been the good actors in this situation, which is very tragic.

KING: After those three Israeli lads were killed, did Israel overreact, turning this killing of three into a wholesale almost war?

RICHARDSON: Well, you know I think, Larry, Israel has to defend itself. I’m not justifying what it did,obviously, but you know, this is a country that is a state of siege, the Hamas is a terrorist organization that wants to see Israel destroyed. They’ve launched these deadly missiles Hamas has, and Israel I think had to respond. Now, obviously what is needed more than anything is a ceasefire,before any peace negotiations proceed. We need a ceasefire and I think Israel is ready to take those steps. They did whenEgypt made their first proposal, now they’re saying they’re ready for a humanitarian ceasefire.I think Hamas has to follow suite.

KING: You’re an ambassador at the UN, what’s happening at the UN right now? They did propose thatIsrael humanitarian stop, and Israel agreed to that. What’s going on at the UN? What’s their role here?

RICHARDSON: Well their role really in the past, Larry, the United States and other major powers involved in peacemaking in the Middle East, have kept the UN out of the situation, because as you know in the general assembly, so many countries are biased against Israel, their votes, I remember being UN ambassador, 1853against Israel, what the UN can do is…..can moderate some kind of peace, but if China and Russia, that have sided, decidedly with the Palestinians, they would probably veto anything constructive from the UN. So it’s really here are the two main players, the United States wehaveinfluence from both sides andEgypt. And that’s the good news, that Egypt is stepping up as a mediator and pushing for this ceasefire,they’re a major player.

KING: What does Obama do and is he doing enough?

RICHARDSON: Well yes, I think what the president has done and what secretary Kerry has done has basically said look, we’re backing the Egyptian mediation, we’re ready to go back, I think secretary Kerry was going to go back and try and bring both sides together. What we can do, Larry, is get the moderatePalestinians, the Palestinians that live on the West Bank, the Abbas’s of the world, that have been saying the right thing on the ceasefire in other words enact a ceasefire Hamas and lean on Hamas. But most importantly, I think this is another role Iran can play. We should say to Iran, Britain, France, the other countries, look, you wanna deal on enriched uranium with the west, you want sanctions lifted, help us with Hamas. Find a way to bring a ceasefire,stop this killing.

KING: You know I remember—I go back I don’t even know how many years ago when you were the ambassador to the UN and—with CNN. I was in New York and you were on and the Iranian ambassador was on. The two of you couldn’t be in the same room together. You had to go out through one door. He came in through another door. When is this ever going to end? Why is the Middle East the Middle East?

RICHARDSON: Because, Larry, there’s so many ethnic and tribal and—all kinds of divisions. They're not just country by country. They’re ethnic, they’re Shiites, the Sunnis, the Kurds, Hamas. There’s so much hatred there. I think there’s got to be a way for the Arab Spring to—through social media—to be the agent of democracy and to stop these killings. Now, I think that the pope can play an important role in the Middle East.

KING: He can?

RICHARDSON: I think that we need new players that bring some kind of mediating and conflict resolution. But with Iran, I wouldn’t throw up our hands. There may be an opportunity for an enriched uranium deal. I’m skeptical, but it’s not over yet.

KING: How is our country doing in all of this, say, compared to when George W. Bush left office? Are we better? Are we safer now? How do you assess security?

RICHARDSON: I would say, Larry, that security is better, although I think president Bush—George W.Bush—did a good job on security. He did a good job after 9/11. But I think what’s different now is we around the world are not looked upon anymore as bullies, as going it alone. We built some alliances, but this is a very challenging time with Ukraine, with North Korea, with the Middle East, with Iraq erupting.The president—president Obama has been dealt some very difficult cards and I would say he’s handled them well. I think on Syria, when he said that he was proceeding with that red line, I would have moved forward with some of those strategic bombings, but it didn’t happen. But at the same time, I think our relationship with our allies is stronger and he’s doing the best he can, but in a way that brings other countries in to help us. But it’s a very difficult period—the most difficult in international politics that I’d[sic] ever seen, and I’m sure that you’ve ever seen.

KING: The most, yeah.

RICHARDSON: You totally supported the removal of all troops from Iraq. Still say that was the right move?

KING: No, I don’t think—I think that was a mistake to invade Iraq, but it happened, and we can’t just say,“Okay, well let’s just get out unilaterally.” I think we invested over thirty five hundred of our young men and women. One trillion dollars. So that doesn’t mean we leave troops behind. I don’t think we should, butI think we should help with reconstruction. We should find a way to bring the Kurds, the Shiites, theSunnis, closer together. I really think the prime minister of Iraq, Larry—Maliki—has really botched the situation by not being inclusive with the other ethnic groups in Iraq. I think it would be in our interest if he leaves office, if a more moderate, inclusive prime minister come in [sic]. So I think we have a responsibility to try to bring some kind of—these terrorists that are out there only want to do everybody harm. And they're in Syria. They’re in Iraq. We have a peacemaking, a diplomatic responsibility. But that’s where we need Iran. That’s where we need Russia. We need China. And that’s where I think we need theUnited Nations more active.

KING: But you still think it was right for the troops to leave Iraq?

RICHARDSON: I do. I do because I think this was an American public that was tired of Iraq andAfghanistan. I think president Obama was elected on bringing our troops home, taking care of our veterans, investing domestically in education, and I do think that invasion, in the first place, was a mistake.That doesn’t mean that you wash your hands and not take responsibility. The fact is, we were there and we need to find ways to let Iraq run their course. But it’s a political problem with the prime minister—Maliki—not listening to anybody, wanting to consolidate his power, and keeping the Shiites, theSunnis, and the Kurds apart. That’s not helping.

KING: What’s the future of Iraq, do you think?

RICHARDSON: I think it’s going to happen, interestingly—what vice president Biden once said eight years ago—and I remember being in the presidential campaign. We said, “This is never going to happen.”But he said, “There’s probably going to be three Iraqi states: a Kurdish state, a Sunni, and a Shiite.”

KING: Yeah.

RICHARDSON: The way things are going, Larry, I think that’s a very, very possible outcome.KING: We’re going to talk about immigration and the crisis along the U.S. southern border. What governor Richardson mean when he said he’s “not in the ready for Hillary camp” when we come back.KING: We’re back with Bill Richardson an old friend and a great public servant. He served two terms as democratic governor of New Mexico. Served as US Ambassador for the UN. During the Clinton administration he was also secretary of energy. Alright, what do you make of this huge influx of 50,000from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador children coming into the United States. How are we doing with that?

RICHARDSON: Well, uh, not well. And the reason we’re not doing well is the congress and the executive branch can’t agree on how to handle it. The atmosphere, Larry, has really gotten partisan. We need you to come back and try to bring both parties together because everybody likes you, but the problem is that there is total gridlock in the congress. What needs to happen is several things: 1. I think the president should be given more authority to deal with some of the deportations, clear lines of authority. Not necessarily changing the law, but some executive authority, but in return the president needs to get what he asks for which is more immigration judges, more detention centers, more hospital and medical treatment for these people, but also, Larry, tell our friends in Central America––El Salvador, Guatemala,Honduras––to stop doing this or we’re going to cut their aid off. You know, we’re giving them assistance to stop this, but this is a humanitarian crisis. I was a border governor. This happened in New Mexico, not from Central America, but there’s a lot of traffickers and bad people. Smugglers that bring these women and children in. They bring drugs in. We’ve got to find a solution, but it looks like there may a deal with aCongress the White House makes. I think they need to make one fairly soon because we’re talking about 50,000 kids, we’re talking about services in the various four border states really having an enormous problem.

KING: The Republicans say that Obama technically caused this. Do you agree with that?

RICHARDSON: No, no, that’s not true. The problem is that the Tea Party side of the RepublicanParty––instead of trying to find a way to work with moderates in the Republican Party like McCain, like even President George W. Bush, like Speaker Boehner. They said we don’t want any immigration reform,period. And what is needed is one, more funding for border security and technology––we need to do that.Secondly, a legal path for the 11 million, a legal path to citizenship. Let them stay after they pay back taxes, learn english, a number of conditions and then a stronger reunification procedure that involve, Larry,something a lot of people don’t talk about. We need to have more H1Bvisas as skilled immigrants be allowed in. You know, this reduces the deficit, creates jobs. There are a lot of skilled immigrants––PhDs––that want to stay here, that contribute to science, technology, a lot of jobs, but they can't stay here and there’s a provision in the house build drafted by a republican that makes the cap a lot easier for these skilled immigrants to stay in the United States.

KING: Would you characterize the Southern border as secure as Congressman Gutierrez says, “It is, other say it’s broken.”

RICHARDSON: The immigration system is broken, uh, the border is more secure than it has been because, uh, this administration, and the congress have put more bordered guards, they’ve put more technology, more drones, more law enforcement at the border, but its still a problem, and interestingly, Mexico has cooperated with us in this Central American Humanitarian Crisis, uh, so it takes more diplomacy also for this to happen, now there are a lot of congressmen that are saying, you know, this is bringing ebola diseases, viruses that are, uh, the current Central American crisis, that’s just flat wrong, but what has come across as more bad people, more traffickers, and smugglers, I would concentrate more on stopping those that, actually, what they’ve done Larry, is they’ve taken advantage of a loophole passed in the Bush administration, which was the right thing to do to help young kids not be victims of sexual trafficking at the border, but they took advantage of this loophole that allowed these kids to stay in detention centers and be processed over a certain period of time.

KING: In January of last year, you wrote a piece for, you said the stars may be finally aligning for a comprehensive immigration overhaul. Well, you’re wrong.

RICHARDSON: Yeah, I thought it would happen, I thought the Republican party would, uh, the moderates would win, but I was wrong, I just think it’s too late now, maybe they’ll give it a shot next year,uh, maybe after the elections, the Republicans have to be very careful, they don’t want to lose the millions of new Hispanic voters that are gonna be determining presidential elections and congressional seats, and right now, I mean, you take the city where you are, Los Angeles, California, this is a state pretty soon will be a majority Hispanic state and thats a trend around the country, so I think Republicans have to be very careful about appearing to be against the comprehensive immigration reform in the long run.

KING: What do you make of Speaker John Boehner push to sue Obama over overstepping the limits of executive authority?

RICHARDSON: Oh, it’s politics, it’s the wrong thing to do, you know I know Speaker Boehner, I served in the congress with him, he’s a good guy, and I think he generally tries to do the right thing, but this is his tea party majority that is pushing him to do these very nonsensical acts that have no foundation, theres no basis for impeachment, you don’t impeach a president because you disagree with him, and that’s what is happening. It’s not gonna go anywhere I think it’s internal house politics.

KING: Where do you think the elections gonna go midterm, can the Republicans take the senate?

RICHARDSON: No, but I think we will lose one or two senate seats, but I think the democrats will win and will keep control of the senate, the house maybe will change a little bit, either way, Larry, I don’t think it's over I think right now I see all these polls that I, uh, Republicans may have an advantage but, you know, this election, is five months away, a lot can happen in those five months, But right now, I do think we will retain the democrats control of the senate.

KING: Your assessment of Obama’s presidency?

RICHARDSON: He’s been a good president, internationally, he’s been, domestically, he’s been stymied by partisanship but I give him high marks for his affordable care act, I give him high marks for getting us out of the economic mess of the start of his administration, i give him high marks for his leadership on social issues, like same sex marriage, I think he’s been a good president. He’s been dealt a very tough blow, by partisanship, but he’s still got two years to go, I don’t think the final chapters of his legacy are completed yet.

KING: In the campaign six years ago you endorsed the President Obama, who recently told theWashington Post that the differences because of that endorsement have no healed and you’re not in the suck up camp for Hilary yet. how bad is that cleavage?

RICHARDSON: Well it’s not good, I had very high regard for both Clintons and when I endorsePresident Obama, they weren’t happy and I understand that and I tried to explain this to them, I tried to meet with them, they weren’t interested. I still have a lot of respect for both but I was simply statingLarry, that I’m not one of these that feel like I have to suck up to anybody, I wanna see who the candidates are, I think there should be open competition, I know Hillary Clinton is a formidable candidate.It’s not that I wont ever be there but right now, I’m not one of those hundred of democrats flocking and saying the race is over, I think we still have a couple years to go, and instead of worrying about the presidential race, we should worry about this year, keeping the house, keeping the senate and protecting our flanks in the house instead of worrying about 2016 and the presidency.

KING: If she is the candidate though you would support her, right?

RICHARDSON:Yes I would. Yeah. If she’s the nominee I would support her. And you know maybe if,when she unveils her platform, her vision for the country, I might also support her. I’m not going to let this breach that we had stand in that way, but I’m also not gonna go after her and be like “I want to be on your team.” No. I like many other voters, I’d like to be convinced about her plans and vision about the country.

KING: Does Bill Clinton, does he not forgive?

RICHARDSON: Well he’s still mad at me, you know he’s had differences with some of his former staffers, but so far he hasn’t forgiven me, I’ll be honest. I still have a lot of affection for him, you know, I served under him, he was good to me. I was good to him, I served him well. You know, politics Larry, you know you sometimes have these breaches and sometimes it takes time to heal. This one has been unusually long but if he wishes to keep it separate and a breach then so be it. I’m not uncomfortable. I'm not begging. I’m fine. I’m happy.

KING: Your state has supported same sex marriage, the seventeenth state to do it, do you support it?

RICHARDSON: Yes. Actually you know when I was Governor, Larry, we made it a lot easier for the state in dealing with transgender, gay, gave them a lot of benefits in the area of civil rights, housing,insurance, etc. We’re quite not yet, same sex marriage, a lot of counties have done it individually but my hope is that the state moves in that direction, with a comprehensive effort in the New Mexico Legislature by some other means.

KING: How about the legalization of marijuana?

RICHARDSON: Nah I, you know as Governor, I brought in medical marijuana. I think for medical, health purposes, properly regulated makes sense. But legalization of marijuana, I wanna see how Colorado handles it, how Washington State, I think they are moving in the right direction, but you know I want to be able to see that legalization is not of marijuana, I would only possibly consider decriminalizing it but you know cocaine, other drugs, I’m not ready for that. I want law enforcement to be comfortable with a solution, and you know they don’t want to change the law. Police officers on the front lines. But I think clearly the Country is moving, and I accept that and I want to see what happens, what medical information there is, on the potential health risks, and I will be very open on it.

KING: By the way you look great. How much weight have you lost?

RICHARDSON: Well I had back surgery and I was carrying too much weight. I’ve lost about 40 pounds.But thank you for the compliment.

I’m trying to look skinny and handsome like you!

KING: [Laughs] You’re terrific. I look forward to when we get together again and break bread.

RICHARDSON: Thank you Larry, it’s always great to be on your show.

KING: Governor Bill Richardson. Thank you for your time today. And also my thanks to you for joining me on PoliticKing. Remember I wanna hear from ya. You can join the conversation on my Facebook page, share your thoughts on Twitter by tweeting @KingsThings, or by using the PoliticKing Hashtag.That’s all for this week’s PoliticKing.