February 13, 2020 12:24
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday appointed Alex Wong, the State Department's deputy special representative for North Korea, as representative for special political affairs at the UN with the rank of ambassador.
That effectively completes the breakup of the U.S. team spearheading denuclearization talks with North Korea.
Late last year, Trump promoted Stephen Biegun, the special representative for North Korea, to the post of deputy secretary of state, and Allison Hooker, a Korean Peninsula specialist on the White House National Security Council, to senior director for Asian affairs at the NSC.
Then in late January, Mark Lambert, another special envoy for North Korea, was reassigned to a State Department team of diplomats working to counter the influence of China and other countries at the UN.
This means three of four key negotiators have left the team, and Biegun himself also has things other than North Korea on his plate at the State Department.
"Trump's resolve to continue negotiations with the North deflated quickly after Pyongyang snubbed Biegun's proposal for talks during his tour of Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing late last year," a diplomatic source in Washington said.
Trump did not mention North Korea at all in his scattershot State of the Union address. On Monday, CNN reported that Trump "has told top foreign policy advisers that he does not want another summit with Kim Jong-un before the presidential election in November."
White House National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien was also skeptical about the current approach to negotiations. "We'll have to see as to whether another summit between the leaders is appropriate," O'Brien said the same day.
The South Korean government made no comment on the development on Wednesday despite its desperate attempts in recent months to restart U.S.-North Korea talks by holding out carrots to Pyongyang.
"The North Korean issue has been pushed on the back burner in the Trump administration's foreign policy," a government source here said. "But even so we'll just have to work harder to achieve progress in inter-Korean relations."
North Korea traditionally responds with military provocations to any signs that the U.S.' attention is diverted elsewhere.
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