Monday, June 04, 2007

RICHARDSON: BOYCOTT THE OLYMPICS?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 4, 2007



(If you're looking for my debate blog, it's the previous post. Just scroll down.)

RICHARDSON SPINNING IN SPIN ALLEY

MANCHESTER, N.H. — At a debate with seven other presidential candidates Sunday, Gov. Bill Richardson said the U.S. should pressure China to take a bigger role in establishing peace in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The statement came as Richardson and the other candidates competed for time and attention in the two-hour debate, which was held at Saint Anselm College and shown nationally on CNN.

Richardson said he is not in favor of using military force in Darfur, which is in the midst of a civil war many call a genocide on the part of the Sudanese government.

“This is what I would do,” Richardson said when asked about how he would try to bring peace to the region. “Number one, more U.N. peacekeepers. The government is refusing to make this happen. Secondly, economic sanctions. We’ve imposed them, but they’re weak. We need European countries to make them happen. Third, we need China, to lean on China, which has enormous leverage over Darfur. And if the Chinese don’t want to do this, we say to them, maybe we won’t go to the Olympics.”

The 2008 Summer Olympics are scheduled to be held in Beijing. The last time the U.S. boycotted the Olympics was in 1980, when President Carter protested the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Olympics were held in Moscow that year.

Later in the debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer returned to Richardson to ask about the his boycott idea.

“China purchases a lot of their oil — most of it, a good part of it — from Sudan. And my view is that they are a leverage point. And they have not been strong on the Sudan,” Richardson said.

Addressing one of his opponents, Richardson said to Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, “We don’t need, Joe — with all due respect — another military involvement. Iraq is enough. And we must get out of Iraq. What we need to do is move forward with the toughest options. Am I for a no-fly zone? Yes. I think we need strong economic sanctions.

“And we lack the moral authority to build international coalitions to fight genocide in Darfur,” Richardson continued. “We should shut down — I would as first day as president, I would shut down Guantánamo. I would shut down Abu Ghraib and secret prisons. That is the moral authority that we don’t have.”

Richardson has experience in the Sudan. Last year, he went there to negotiate the release of a U.S. journalist captured by government forces. Early this year, he went to Darfur to attempt to negotiate peace. He got two sides to agree to a cease-fire — though the violence there goes on.

“I got a very fragile cease-fire put together there three months ago,” Richardson said in the debate. “And we made things a little better.”

One of Richardson’s rivals, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, disagreed with Richardson about using the Olympics as leverage. It’s important to engage the Chinese in the Darfur crisis, Dodd said, “But the idea that you go in and stop the Olympics from happening, I don’t think gets you there. I think that’s more likely to delay the kind of influence and support China ought to be providing.”

But another candidate disagreed with Dodd. “I think that we should use whatever tools available to us,” said former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Richardson and other candidates were asked how they would use former President Bill Clinton, the most recent Democratic president.

Richardson said Bill Clinton should be secretary-general of the United Nations. He also said he would ask the former president to serve as a special envoy to the Middle East.

In April, Richardson, speaking to the National Jewish Democratic Council, said he’d consider bringing back James Baker — former secretary of state under the first President Bush — as a special envoy for the Mideast peace process.

One of Richardson’s opponents, front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, hinted there could be a role for Richardson in her administration.

“In my administration, (there would be) diplomacy, patient, careful diplomacy, the kind of diplomacy that Bill Richardson did for my husband, that really gets people to stay with it over time.”

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