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Bill Richardson: a negotiator's faith in fairness and finding the common good

The Democratic presidential hopeful, perhaps best known for his success in hostage-rescue missions, says he's motivated by 'a big desire to resolve problems.'

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Send in Bill Richardson.

Starting in the 1990s, that became the way to win release of US citizens and others held captive in hostile countries. The energetic negotiator, a congressman back then, brought them home every time – from North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, and Iraq.

His secret weapon: "respect," he says, even for adversaries.

In some ways, Mr. Richardson proved to be particularly suited to the troubleshooting job abroad. Raised in both the United States and Mexico, he'd learned early how to bridge different cultures. And the teachings of his family and his church – to help one's fellow human beings – were a powerful motivator for those rescue missions.

"I have a big desire to resolve problems ... and to help people in need," says Richardson, now a Democratic candidate for president of the United States, during a recent interview on the stump in Iowa. "Coming from two cultures, I appreciate that people have different viewpoints but that everyone should be treated with respect."

One key reason he's running for president now, he says, is to try to bring Americans together to end the current era of intensely polarized politics in the US. Another taps his international credentials: to try to restore America's "moral authority" in the world community, which he sees as severely eroded as a result of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

It may well be Richardson's experience abroad that sets him apart from much of the presidential field. He's currently the popular governor of New Mexico, having won reelection in 2006 with 69 percent of the vote. But he's also served 18 months as United Nations ambassador during the Clinton presidency, run the US Department of Energy, and, before that, pulled off multiple negotiating coups with foreign leaders while a seven-term congressman.

"He really wants America to be a force for peace and democracy, and he understands the need today for interdependence," says long-time friend Mickey Ibarra, who served along with Richardson under Mr. Clinton.

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