Pompeo to head North with new envoy in tow

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Pompeo to head North with new envoy in tow


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, looks at the new U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, Stephen Biegun, at a press conference in Washington Thursday. [AFP/YONHAP]

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday that he will be making a fourth trip to Pyongyang next week, accompanied by a Ford executive who has been appointed as his new special envoy to North Korea.

Pompeo named Stephen Biegun, the vice president of international governmental affairs at Ford Motor Company, as the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea during a press briefing in Washington.

“He and I will be traveling to North Korea next week to make further diplomatic progress towards our objective,” said the U.S. top diplomat.

Biegun’s appointment comes as the administration works toward achieving North Korea’s final, fully verified denuclearization, he said, and to “resolve the North Korean security threat once and for all.”

As the special representative for North Korea, Biegun, a former White House staffer, is expected to direct U.S. policy toward North Korea and handle day-to-day negotiations with Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

The post has been vacant for nearly half a year since career diplomat Joseph Yun retired in early March. U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, who led talks with North Korean diplomats at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom to plan for the June 12 summit, also formerly served as a special envoy to the North.

Biegun previously served as an executive secretary of the National Security Council (NSC) under the George W. Bush administration and was a senior staffer to former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

He also served as a foreign policy adviser to both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and as a resident director for the International Republican Institute in Moscow in the early 1990s.

Biegun was set to retire from Ford, where he oversees the company’s trade strategy and political risk assessment, at the end of this month.

During the press conference, Biegun acknowledged that the issues “will be tough to resolve” but added that Trump “created an opening” for a peaceful future for the people of North Korea.

“This begins with the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, as agreed by Chairman Kim Jong-un at the summit with President Trump in Singapore,” Biegun said.

The latest visit could indicate progress toward a denuclearization deal with North Korea following the summit between the country’s leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.

In their joint statement, the two leaders committed to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for security guarantees for the North.

Pompeo did not immediately disclose a date for their trip to the North. His last trip to Pyongyang was in early July.

The U.S. State Department, however, said Thursday Pompeo was not expecting to meet with North Korean leader Kim in his visit next week, which came as a surprise. Pompeo also did not meet Kim when he visited the North last month.

“We have no expectations of meeting with Chairman Kim. That is not a part of this trip,” said Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson, at a press briefing.

Pressed on why Pompeo would not meet with Kim, Nauert said that it was important that the two countries were “regularizing these meetings and these conversations with a government that we have had very, very little interaction with over the past decade or so.”

Pompeo’s failure to meet with Kim last month raised questions over the pace of the North-U.S. talks on denuclearization.

Pompeo is reported to have demanded Pyongyang hand over a complete list of its nuclear stockpiles and related facilities during his trip in July. However, he did not promise rewards from Washington in return, such as sanctions relief or an agreement to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which could explain Kim’s reluctance to meet with the secretary of state.

The Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, and the two Koreas have technically been at war since 1950.

In a display of dissatisfaction with what it perceives to be U.S. inaction on compensation for denuclearization, Kim slammed the international sanctions campaign against the North as “brigandish” and brought about by “hostile forces” earlier this month, according to the state-run Rodong Sinmun.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, told the Korea JoongAng Daily on Friday that the two sides appeared to have found some middle ground on the early stages of the North’s denuclearization.

“The fact that Pompeo is going there itself demonstrates that the two have agreed on the basic principles of the early denuclearization phase, which is the North’s handover of a list of its nuclear arsenal and related facilities and the United States’ agreement to declare an end to the Korean War,” the North Korea expert said.

“It is also possible for Pompeo to discuss a second Kim-Trump summit with North Korean officials and exchange opinions on the possible date and venue while in Pyongyang. If that happens, Kim might not feel it is necessary to meet with Pompeo, as he will soon meet with Trump,” Koh said.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul who specializes in North Korea affairs, wrote in a report on Aug. 16 that the United States should be prepared to give the North a so-called compensation timeline that corresponds with each step toward denuclearization that the North takes.

“If Pompeo made a unilateral demand that the North hand over a complete list of nuclear stockpiles without disclosing Washington’s rewards in return on his last visit to Pyongyang on July 6, as it is reported, the North could have taken it as a ‘brigandish’ demand,” said Cheong. “Doing so would be like disclosing all of its bargaining chips to the United States, making the North-U.S. talks more favorable for Washington.”

The Blue House on Friday welcomed the announcement of Pompeo’s fourth trip to Pyongyang. It expressed hope that it could build “strong momentum for denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

“We believe that the upcoming visit bears much significance in and of itself,” said Kim Eui-kyeom, the Blue House spokesman. “I think we will be fleshing out the details of the upcoming inter-Korean summit after Pompeo’s visit to the North.”

South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Friday that “based on the expertise Biegun has built up in the area of national security, we expect that he will carry out his duties as the special representative for North Korea policy splendidly.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU, SARAH KIM [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]
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