THE KOREAN ENVOY
NOVEMBER 29, 1996
Bill Richardson (D-NM) has just returned from his third visit to North Korea. On this trip, he helped negotiate the release of Evan Hunziker, an American citizen accused of espionage. He discusses this issue, the problems of North Korea's nuclear proliferation and the serious food shortage it faces.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
May 21, 1996:
A discussion about the chronic food shortage North Korea faces.
April 22, 1996:
A panel of Asia experts discuss Warren Christophers trip to South Korea, the Middle East and Russia.
April 15, 1996:
President Clinton's visit to South Korea and Asia is the topic of discussion by a panel of Asia experts.
December 28, 1995:
The story of the arrest of two of South Korea's former Presidents on bribery charges.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Asia coverage.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Evan Hunziker of Tacoma, Washington, had been in captivity in North Korea for three months. He was arrested as a spy after he swam across the Yalu River from China into North Korea. On Wednesday, Hunziker was put on a plane and sent home in time to spend Thanksgiving with his family. The man who helped organized Hunziker's release was Rep. Bill Richardson, Democrat from New Mexico. This was the second time in two years the congressman has helped gain the freedom of an American held in North Korea. Congressman, thank you for joining us.
REP. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) New Mexico: Thank you, Charlayne.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Let's begin at the beginning. Who exactly was Evan Hunziker, and what was he doing in North Korea?
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: He was a young man, 27 years old, wanted to be a humanitarian missionary. He felt deeply that he wanted to rediscover his North Korean roots. He's half Korean. His mom is Korean. He unwisely swam across the Yalu River and had no passport, was captured by the North Korea police after being a couple of hours with some farmers on the North Korean side. And then he was detained for 90 days in a very severe incarceration center and charged with being a spy for South Korea, and at the time the North Koreans, up until we got Hunziker released, wanted $100,000 in bail money as a fine for this infraction of being in the country illegally and also for being a spy.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Was there anything to substantiate the charge that he was a spy that you know of?
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, he did sign a couple of confessions that indicated that, but it's our view that those confessions were signed under duress. He was very emotionally distraught when I saw him. A Swedish representative of North Korea also felt that he was under duress, that he was being seriously interrogated, although, in general, he was well treated and well fed.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you said he was in a severe prison and under severe--I forget the word you just used--but it was severe interrogation. What does that mean?
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, that means that the North Koreans are very adept at psychological I won't call it warfare but interrogation where they exact from whoever they want--in this case a confession--and they wanted a confession, to come to us and say, look, this man was in our country illegally, he was a spy, and it's going to cost you $100,000 to get him out. Plus, the North Koreans at one point had threatened to try him for espionage, and that carries a seven-year penalty.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you're satisfied that he was not a spy?
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: I'm satisfied, and the U.S. Government is satisfied he's not a spy. He's a confused young man, good intentions, very idealistic, who strayed in North Korea in an adventuresome frolic, and really, he paid for it with 90 days of his life in very severe conditions. And this--this incident also came at a time when U.S.-North Korean relations were in pretty bad shape because of this submarine incident in which North Korean commandos strayed into South Korea. So it was all a very tense period, and this is why the Department of State and myself, we wanted to put this incident of Hunziker behind us, so we could start talking about the other very, very important national security issues to reduce the tension in that Korean Peninsula.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Just briefly--I want to get to that in a second, but how did you get him out and get them down from the $100,000 to what was it, $5,000 that was finally paid?
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: That's right. Well, it was very intensive negotiations. A lot of credit goes to the State Department that also was negotiating with me for the last 90 days. We were dealing with the North Korean mission at the U.N. agency in New York, and it took us three months basically to get the North Koreans to realize that we weren't going to pay that fine, because that would be a quid pro quo. That would be an admission of guilt. And what we settled on was $5,000 that the family paid for hotel costs, basically incarceration costs, over that 92-day period.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why do you think they released him? Was it the money?
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: No. I don't think it was the money. I think North Korea realized that they made a terrible mistake with this submarine incident, and they realized unless they released Hunziker, unless they made some kind of an admission of error and contrition over this submarine incident, which they haven't made by the way, but I think they're going to make, that unless they put those issues behind them, the United States and the international community was going to continue being leery of them, was not going to give them any food assistance at a time when they need it, that their bilateral negotiations with us on a nuclear agreement, where they get substantial heavy oil and light water reactor from South Korea and Japan which is in their intent, that all of that was going to evaporate if they continued some of these very warlike, and negative, and I would say intrusive initiatives like they did with that submarine incident into South Korea.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Let's just explain that briefly. That was when the North Koreans went into South Korea with a submarine that turned up on their shores, that people who were in the submarine turned up in South Korea.
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: That's right, Charlayne. Those were commandos, and this was a submarine that went into North Korean shores, disembarked over 20 North Korean commandos. It was certainly an aggressive act at a time that South Korea was giving them food assistance, we were having some prospects of peace talks with North Korea, South Korea, China, and the U.S., this very intrusive action took place.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Now, this is your second time in North Korea, as we just explained. Was anything different? Did you learn anything new about who was running the country, or what was on the minds of the North Koreans vis-a-vis some of these issues?
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: My sense, Charlayne, is that the North Koreans are run by the son of the former great leader. His name is Kim Jung-Il. But, nonetheless, he is not in total control the way his father was. I think that the military and security forces, that in many cases tend to be more aggressive than the civilian forces, still have not accepted the need for normalization with South Korea. They may accept the need for better relations with the United States, but they are unfortunately making provocative statements. Apparently, they made one today against the United States.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: That's right. They said that--they warned if the United States sided with Korea over the North Korean submarine and asking for an apology, there were going to be problems. Did you discuss that, and do you--
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: Yes, I did. And I think that's rhetoric. That's press rhetoric, that North Koreans negotiate like this. They feel that if they make provocative statements, make threats, that that gives them leverage in negotiation. That doesn't always work.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But, excuse me. I just want to ask you quickly--they said earlier this month that this submarine incident could jeopardize the treaty on the nuclear weapons program that you mentioned earlier. Do you think that that's the case?
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: There's no question that unless North Korea makes a statement of regret or contrition on the submarine incident, that a lot of progress is going to be derailed, but my sense after being there, after negotiating with them, they held me for an extra day to talk about these issues that they wanted to get off their chest. My impression is that within the next two weeks that the North Koreans will make a statement of regret, because they know that they've got an awful lot to lose. Still, it's a very dicey situation there.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Right. Well, Congressman, thank you so much for joining us, and congratulations on your achievement.
REP. BILL RICHARDSON: Thank you very much.