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  •   Trouble-Shooting Congressman

    By Thomas W. Lippman
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, July 18, 1995; Page A13

    Facing a tough problem overseas that the White House and State Department have been unable to solve, a Democratic politician with a reputation as a self-appointed trouble-shooter plunges in and gets a deal.

    Former president Jimmy Carter? Well, him too, but in this case it is Rep. Bill Richardson (N.M.), who emerged from Iraq yesterday escorting two Americans sentenced to long prison terms whom Richardson had persuaded Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to release.

    According to aides, Richardson's international interventions have come about almost by accident.

    Last December, he was in North Korea for a planned one-day visit as a member of the House Intelligence Committee when he learned a U.S. Army helicopter had been shot down after straying over the border from South Korea. Richardson stayed until he secured the release of the body of the pilot, who was killed, and pressed North Korea to free the surviving copilot, who was released the following week and credited Richardson.

    In Burma, Richardson was the first non-family member to visit democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, during her nearly six years of house arrest. His meetings with her led Burma's military rulers to promise to open a "dialogue" with her, and although Richardson was turned away when he sought to see her again on a visit to Burma last month, she has since been freed.

    According to an aide, Richardson got involved with Burma for the most conventional political reason: trying to help a constituent from his district, centered in Santa Fe. The constituent asked Richardson in 1989 for help in getting a dissident Burmese student out of the country, an encounter that led Richardson into a standing commitment to Burma's democratic opposition.

    Richardson, 48, who has a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, knew he was walking a treacherous path in seeking the release from Iraq of David Daliberti and William Barloon, according to Clinton administration officials.

    As with others who had tried to be intermediaries on behalf of the two prisoners, Iraq sought to extract an apology from President Clinton, relief from economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council and other gestures that would be interpreted as U.S. concessions.

    "We told him there were not going to be indirect negotiations, we were not going to authorize him to put into play any ideas or anything from the U.S. government, and he understood," a senior administration official said yesterday.

    He said that once Iraq lost its bid to have sanctions lifted after the most recent Security Council review, "these guys became an impediment to them. {Their confinement} simply served as a constant reminder of the Iraqis' behavior, and they wanted to get rid of them. Richardson was available, and he had a track record."

    © Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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