Former UN ambassador: North Koreans' test-firing was likely intended to show they’re ‘still around’

Bill Richardson, onetime U.S ambassador to the U.N., reacted Thursday to reports that North Korea had test-fired two short-range missiles, saying, “right now things are not looking good, but it’s not a hapless situation.”

Speaking on “America’s Newsroom,” Richardson said he is “concerned” adding, “The North Koreans are being provocative, but at the same time they’re not closing the door on negotiations.”

North Korea fired the missiles on Thursday, according to South Korean military; the U.S. responded with an intercontinental ballistic missile test of its own just 10 minutes later. The U.S. insisted the timing of its test was “entirely coincidental.”

NORTH KOREA FIRES 2 SHORT-RANGE MISSILES, 5 DAYS AFTER PREVIOUS LAUNCH; US TESTS LONG-RANGE MISSILE WITHIN 10 MINUTES

North Korea’s launch, the second such move in less than a week, occurred around 4:30 p.m. local time from the North’s Sino-ri missile base, the South’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement. The base is some 130 miles north of the border with South Korea. The missiles flew 260 and 170 miles, respectively, according to South Korean military officials.

“They're saying, ‘Hey, we're still around,’” Richardson said. “These are short-range rockets. They don't endanger necessarily Japan. They don't violate the pledge that Kim Jong Un gave to the president about testing long-range missiles, nuclear missiles.

“So what they’re saying is, ‘Look, you have to come to the table with our position,' which is, 'We're not going to denuclearize and we want sanctions relief.'"

Richardson added: “Hopefully they won't violate a pledge of nuclear long-range. If they do, I think the president is going to have to be very, very careful. I just hope the president doesn't keep saying: ‘Kim Jong Un is with me, I'm with him.’

"Just cool down. Let the negotiators do the talking.”

When asked if he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin encouraged Kim on this front, especially given that the two leaders met a couple of weeks before Richardson answered, “Putin is clearly helping Kim Jong Un.”

“Putin can't give him money but maybe he’s giving him a little technology. Maybe Putin is helping him violate sanctions on the Russian border a bit.”

“You know, Putin is just not helping us period in Syria, in Iraq, with Iran. He’s not helping us with North Korea. So yeah, I bet you Putin said, ‘Look, we'll help you,’” Richardson added.

“What we don't want Putin to do is at the U.N. with China team up to weaken sanctions, which have really brought Kim Jong Un to the table. That's where we don't want Putin messing around.”

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Richardson also weighed in on the situation with Iran, saying, the relationship between Iran and the United States is “deteriorating considerably.”

He made the comment the day after Iran threatened to enrich its uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade levels in 60 days if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its 2015 nuclear deal. That has elevated regional tensions, with a U.S. aircraft carrier and bombers headed to the Middle East.

“I disagreed with getting out of the nuclear deal," Richardson said, referring to President Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the nuclear pact with Iran. "But at the same time, Iran keeps helping terrorist groups, helping Assad in Syria, you know messing around in Yemen. They’re not our friends.”

“But what I worry about is, we have a window of about 60 days maybe for some third-party negotiations so Iran doesn't enrich uranium, which it said it’s going to do within 60 days, and secondly start up another nuclear reactor that is geared to nuclear weapons and not nuclear power. So things are not good.”

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Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.