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North Korea


Governor Richardson returned to Pyongyang in December 2010 at a time when tensions between North and South Korea were boiling over. Both sides threatened war. While there, Richardson seized the opportunity to try to convince North Korean political and military leaders not to carry through with threats to fire on South Koreans as they conducted military exercises.

Richardson traveled to Pyongyang at the invitation of First Vice Minister Kim Kye Gwan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator. Richardson’s goal was to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula by convincing the North to pursue several peaceful initiatives.

While North Korean leaders listened to Richardson’s proposals, they were preoccupied with the growing crisis with South Korea, which erupted in March 2010 with the sinking of the South Korean Navy ship, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. In November 2010, North Korea fired dozens of artillery rounds that killed two South Korean soldiers and injured dozens of others as they conducted military exercises on Yeonpyeong Island in disputed waters in the Yellow Sea.

As South Korea prepared for additional military exercises on the island, North Korea threatened to retaliate. As both sides prepared for war, Governor Richardson was the only American in Pyongyang with the ear of top foreign ministry and military leaders. He urged them to show restraint. The North Korean military did not retaliate, and Governor Richardson was able to obtain pledges of cooperation on several issues, including the return of international inspectors to verify nuclear facilities and the return of recently discovered remains of several American soldiers who were killed during the Korean War.