Monday, September 11, 2006

Bill Richardson Would Make A Good Secretary Of State

After he successfully traveled to the Sudan last week, met with Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and secured the release of Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Salopek from 34 days of captivity on spurious espionage charges, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson lauded the release.

"It was a humanitarian gesture," Richardson declared. "I think this is a triumph of democracy. We can make a difference even if we have wide differences."

Richardson, 59, of course, has long undertaken diplomatic missions. A Democrat and former congressman, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Energy Secretary, he was nonetheless the representative of the Bush Administration in a private mission to North Korea. He has traveled the world, and, unlike some other American diplomats, there is no one he will not talk to.

Should the Democrats be returned to the presidency in the 2008 elections, Richardson, or another skilled diplomat, Richard Holbrook, who negotiated the Bosnian settlement in the Clinton Administration, well could become Secretary of State. Either would be a distinguished choice.

Richardson's statement the other day, as reported in the L.A. Times Sunday, bears repeating. "We can make a difference even if we have wide differences."

This could profitably become a watchword of American diplomacy, and, in light of the fact that the Sudan is one of the most misbehaving countries on the planet, having killed hundreds of thousands in a pointless ethnic war in the Darfur region, it is illuminating that the governor was able to go there and come out with such a fine result.

Salopek, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was actually on assignment for the National Geographic magazine when he crossed into Darfur, part of the Sudan, without a visa, and was seized by Sudanese units.

Richardson was not the only person who went to the Sudan in the effort to get Salopek released. To their credit, Chicago Tribune Editor Ann Lipinski and National Geographic Editor-in-chief Christopher Johns went as well. It is heartening to see these two editors rising to their responsibilities, willing to go to a dangerously unfriendly country to help achieve freedom for one of their reporters.

This in short was a great diplomatic success, and hopefully Gov. Richardson will have other opportunities for a diplomatic breakthrough in the years ahead, perhaps with Iran, where new approaches are needed.

Finally, from the reports, I like the Sudanese judge who presided over the actual release. Hoaham Mohammed Yousif did not waste words, as he ordered Salopek and his two drivers released. "We are stopping the case and we are releasing you right now," the judge declared. For brevity, American judges could well emulate him. It sometimes takes much too long to unravel a worthless case in this country.

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