On the eve of a conversation with a delegation from North Korea, Democratic Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico talked diplomacy with CNBC's “Kudlow & Company,” as well as his presidential prospects, and the hot-button issue of immigration.
Richardson is slated to meet with two top North Korean officials Friday, ahead of the six-party talks scheduled to resume in Beijing on Monday. Richardson will not act as a representative of the White House, but said his message will be much the same.
"My message is going to be what has been consistent, the message of the Bush administration. And that is, 'Dismantle your nuclear weapons," Richardson said of his plans for the meeting, in an interview with CNBC’s Larry Kudlow.
"The State Department granted permission for these individuals to come to Santa Fe," Richardson further explained. "I've known them and negotiated with them for years but that will be the message: dismantle your nuclear weapons."
Richardson served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration. A North Korean delegation also visited Richardson in January 2003, shortly after he took office in Santa Fe. Richardson has made five trips to North Korea; the most recent visit took place last October.
Richardson said he has not decided if he will throw his hat into the ring for the 2008 White House race. "I'm going to decide in January sometime, in early to mid-January," he told Kudlow of a possible presidential run. "I'm in the process of doing all the thinking, strategizing, talking to family."
In 2004, the New Mexico governor was tapped as the first Hispanic chairman of a national Democratic convention, and was a strong contender for the Vice Presidential slot on the ticket led by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Richardson's resume also includes seven terms in the U.S. House and service as Energy Secretary. That tenure at the Energy Department was blemished by controversy over leaks to the press about Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee.
Richardson was elected governor of New Mexico in 2002. His leadership of that southwest state puts him in the hot zone of the ongoing debate over illegal immigration. Born in California, Richardson’s mother was Mexican. Richardson lived and worked in that country, and speaks fluent Spanish.
Richardson told Kudlow he advocates a tough legalization program, similar to the one proposed by another possible presidential candidate, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
“The alternative is what,” Richardson asked rhetorically, ”You’re going to deport eleven million people?”
In September Congress passed and President Bush signed a law that would create a 700-mile fence along a portion of the U.S. border with Mexico. Gov. Richardson has decried the construction of that fence, "because it's not going to work."
"You’re going to have undocumented workers -- illegal workers-- coming over the fence or under. When people are desperate, they're going to cross the fence."
Richardson said he disagrees with the argument that immigration is keeping U.S. wages down, or that causing native-born Americans to lose their jobs. He said that these immigrants buoy the U.S. economy by doing the jobs that many Americans don’t want to do.
“We shouldn’t get into this xenophobia and not find ways to deal with this problem in a rational way,” the governor added.