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Obama to name ex-rival as commerce secretary

Latest update : 2008-12-03

Obama is expected to nominate New Mexico Democrat Bill Richardson, a former rival for the presidential nomination once dubbed the "Indiana Jones" of US diplomacy, at a news conference on Wednesday.

AFP - President-elect Barack Obama will Wednesday nominate New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as commerce secretary, in the latest addition to his rapidly filling cabinet, a Democratic official said.

Obama is set to roll out Richardson, a former diplomatic troubleshooter and ex-envoy to the United Nations at a news conference in Chicago, two days after announcing a heavy-hitting national security team.

Richardson, 61, one of the highest profile Hispanic politicians in the United States, had been seen as a possible choice for secretary of state, had Obama not decided to hand the job to his former political foe Hillary Clinton.

The New Mexico governor mounted an unsuccessful challenge for the Democratic nomination, and switched allegiances to back Obama over Clinton, despite his loyalty to former president Bill Clinton, whom he served as energy secretary.

Richardson's new post is the latest in a long string of official and ad hoc assignments, which included a spell in the House of Representatives.

Once dubbed the "Indiana Jones" of US diplomacy, Richardson is famed for daring head-to-head encounters with strongmen leaders on the US pariah list, including Iraq's executed president Saddam Hussein and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

One of the more colorful if rumpled members of the Clinton years, Richardson stormed through public life in a trademark blue blazer and was remembered as a resourceful lawmaker and consummate deal maker.

Critics however have complained he hogged the media spotlight, and took his eye off administrative responsibilities.

Over the years Richardson emerged as a favored go-between for North Korea's Stalinist regime in successive nuclear showdowns with Washington.

He was no stranger to the idiosyncrasies of North Korean negotiators: in 1994, he was on a congressional fact-finding trip to the isolated communist state when a US Army helicopter was shot down after straying across the iron curtain with South Korea.

Richardson negotiated the release of the surviving pilot and the return of the body of his dead co-pilot.

A year later, he faced down another mortal US enemy, Saddam Hussein, persuading him to hand over two US businessmen jailed after they accidentally crossed into the country.

In 1996, Richardson was back in North Korea, liberating an American missionary who swam across a river from China and was accused of being a spy.

In his packed career as an unofficial envoy, Richardson also found time to negotiate with Cuba's Castro, lobby Myanmar's military rulers on behalf of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and persuade former Haitian military ruler Raoul Cedras to cede power.

He once reportedly closed a deal with Sudanese rebels holding three Red Cross workers by offering four-wheel-drive jeeps, medicine, rice and a tractor, in place of a 2.5-million-dollar ransom demand.

Date created : 2008-12-03