President Trump has bemoaned that he will be denied a Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic outreach to North Korea, and now Democrats have nominated some competition for the award — a veteran diplomat and politician known for his work with the secretive nuclear-armed regime.
Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was nominated last month by members of Congress. His nomination, which has not been previously reported, is for decades of work on behalf of hostages and prisoners held in several nations.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee was asked to consider case histories including the late Otto Warmbier, an American college student released by North Korea in 2017 after 17 months, and returned to the United States with severe brain damage. He died days after returning to the United States.
“The innovative private diplomatic efforts by Governor Richardson and the Richardson Center have mitigated the risk of violent conflict, de-escalated tensions, opened critical back channels and made strides towards peace in conflicts around the world and in North Korea in particular,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and 23 current and former Democratic lawmakers wrote to the Nobel Peace Prize selection committee.
Richardson, a former Democratic congressman and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has made numerous trips to North Korea to seek release of Americans held there. In addition to Warmbier, the nominating letter says he also helped secure the release of two other Americans, journalist Laura Ling and Evan Hunziker.
“For as long as I have known Bill Richardson, I have known him to be a tough, relentless, and effective diplomat and advocate for peace and human rights around the world,” Udall said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Richardson and the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, his nonprofit organization, work independently from the U.S. or other governments, using what Richardson calls “informal diplomacy.” This is the fifth time Richardson has been recommended to the Nobel committee for work on behalf of hostages and international prisoners.
“No person or family should ever feel abandoned by their country when taken prisoner or hostage by hostile entities,” Richardson said in a statement to The Post. “I’ve got a lucky blue blazer for years I’ve worn into situations I didn’t know if I will make it out of. Doing this type of work is a challenge I love and will continue to do as long as I am able and as long as my blazer holds up.”
Richardson’s organization sent a mission to North Korea in late 2016 to discuss the return of the remains of U.S. soldiers and airmen from the Korean War, and to try to negotiate Warmbier’s release. The group was denied a meeting with Warmbier and was not told of his condition.
The Warmbier case became central to Trump’s war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during Trump’s first year in office, before both leaders pivoted to diplomacy. Trump and Kim held a historic first summit in June that is the subject of Trump’s Nobel nomination and have promised to hold a second meeting next month.
Trump frequently claims that he averted war with North Korea and that his bellicose stance gave him leverage for the personal diplomacy that followed. The goal is for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, something U.S. intelligence agencies told Congress this week is unlikely.
Trump was mentioned as a Nobel contender last year but said in an interview in November that “they’ll never give it to me.” In the same New York Post interview, he also lamented that he was denied an Emmy for his reality-television show “The Apprentice.”
He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year by a group of Republican lawmakers. Asked in May whether he deserved the award, he said: “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it.”
Trump is again in the running for the Nobel Prize, to be awarded in the fall.
Trump’s first North Korea summit yielded few specific accomplishments, though North Korea in July released what are thought to be the remains of 55 Americans killed in the Korean War. Richard Downes, president of the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs, credits Richardson’s earlier negotiation for initiating the eventual release.
“It’s an example of what can be done if they sit down and talk from the position of getting things done, rather than from the position of wanting their own way,” said Downes, who wrote a testimonial that accompanies Richardson’s nomination.
The parents of Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker kidnapped in 2013 and held by the Islamic State in Syria, also wrote a testimonial.
“We have found renewed hope through the Richardson Center for Global Engagement and from their transparent and purposeful communication,” Carl and Marsha Mueller wrote. “They initiated a bold and focused plan to search for Kayla’s remains or information about her possible ongoing captivity, knowing how remote this is.”
The Nobel nomination process is byzantine and opaque. Nominations may be made by lawmakers, legal experts, academics and previous recipients.