Alex Witt   |  March 30, 2013

Richardson: N. Korea testing new S. Korean president

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson joins MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts to discuss North Korea’s recent threats of military action.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> earlier today north korea threatened to close the industrial complex but that site does remain open. hundreds of south koreans travel there daily. they consider the status of the the best signal of the intentions of the north. former new mexico governor, bill richardson who served as u.s. ambassador to the united nations and made a trip to north korea . as we have a chance to talk now based on this new statement from the north, simply put, how close are we to seeing some type of violent escalation?

>> well, the danger is some kind of escalation. the worry i have is a skirmish, military skirmish in the yellow sea . that's the area naval skirmish that this has happened before . what is happening now with the north koreans is every few years they test the new south korean leader. and i think they are testing her, testing this new president and basically taking steps that would mean that she may have to retaliate.

>> sir, isn't this --

>> what i hope, tom --

>> sir, isn't this also a test for kim jong -un to demonstrate some type of military prowess where know he is untested in his leadership?

>> yes, the worry i have that he -- to his generals, to his military, to the hard liners in his military that want isolation or some type of confrontation. members of his family that are anti-engaging, that's the worry i have, his youth and inexperience. he hasn't served in the military. to trot him out there with the military saying we're going to continue this very hard line policy is worry some. i've never seen the heightened tension, i've been working with them and unofficial official envoy, i've never seen them so consistently rhetorically and actionwise so negative.

>> so based on the aggression that we're seeing right now, what do you think the red line is for the u.s.?

>> well, the u.s. has taken the right step. i think you want to go ahead with those b-2 stealth bombers and use the expression, let them know we're around. it's a message to north korea that, look, your rhetoric is out of hand but also to our allies in south korea and japan that we're ready to defend them. i think the next step has to be you've got to have some cool heads prevail now. the sanctions have happened at the united nations and the military exercises have happened. i think thomas , the next step has to be diplomacy. china has to really weigh in and say to north korea , look, you can't continue doing this. they have leverage over north korea --

>> do you think the countries involved, that they have the influence necessary?

>> well, yeah, they have the influence, but i don't know if they want to exercise it. that's the issue. they provide a lot of food to north korea and a lot of energy, fuel. a lot of investments there. military equipment , so they have the leverage but they've been unwilling to use it. they did help the united states and others draft the security council resolution , which added the new sanctions after the nuclear test . so a lot of things have to happen but the key, thomas is diplomacy, the united states , south korea , japan , the six party countries, some kind of way to open up a dialogue because you can't continue with this tinder box sense of tension in the peninsula where the north and south could fire at each other in the yellow sea and that brings in the major powers , us in because of the treaty relationship with japan and south korea .

>> "the new york times" goes on to say the obama administration considers these threats blusterring and more worried about the things the north korean regime does not admit to, the recent cyber attack on the south, torpedo attack three years ago. as i mentioned, you had the recent trip yourself to north korea . from that experience several months ago, what's your take or -- about the ramping up to where we are today, the seriousness of what we are seeing today?

>> well, when i went there, thomas in january, the north koreans were very angry about the sanctions that they were about to get. they did tell us that this was not the right course to go. i said to them, look, if you have underground nuclear blasts, you launch all of these missiles and threaten everybody, there's got to be a response. what you need to do is cool down, work on the economy, find ways to help your own people and start negotiating process with the six-party countries, with south korea and with the u.s. the situation leadershipwise there is uncertain. we don't know if the hard liners have gotten ahold of kim jong -un and said, you've got to show your toughness internationally. but also, because you're so young and you're inexperienced, you've got to buttress your political base in north korea . my sense was he was popular, they don't have elections, the medias control. i think there's something going on there that no matter in the obama administration, i think they've done the right thing. i'm not an insider with them, i don't know what they are thinking. but i would look at diplomacy as the next step after things cool down.

>> bill richardson , thanks for coming on. i appreciate it.