The Trump administration is implementing a reshuffling of officials handling North Korea affairs while North Korea is disregarding the U.S.’ calls to restart nuclear negotiations and increasing its threats against the U.S. and South Korea. With several State Department officials, who have extensive experience on North Korea issues, leaving their positions, there are growing concerns about the future of nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.
According to a diplomatic source on Monday (local time), U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Mark Lambert will be taking charge of a new role from next month. Lambert took office as State Department director for Korea policy in 2015 and has been engaging in negotiations with North Korea since he was named acting deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) Once he leaves the position, Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary for North Korea, will be managing all diplomatic policy on North Korea. Wong, who is in his mid-30s, is considered a young diplomat with a relatively short experience with North Korea affairs.
The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, has been nominated as Deputy Secretary of State and his confirmation hearing was held recently. If confirmed, his responsibilities will expand to oversee the department. If Mike Pompeo resigns his post to run for the U.S. Senate early next year, Biegun could serve as acting secretary of State Department.
Critics have pointed out that the White House is failing to concentrate on nuclear negotiations with North Korea since Matthew Pottinger, who handled Korea issues at the White House as Asia policy adviser, was promoted to Deputy National Security Advisor. Moreover, the White House is busy dealing with an impeachment vote by the House of Representatives slated for next month. It is hard to see President Trump mention North Korea during his campaign or on his Twitter account.
Washington’s inaction to North Korea’s recent violation of the military agreement signed between two Koreas appears to be in line with the situation in Washington. The U.S. State Department did not give any answer to the questions raised by the Dong-A Ilbo on Tuesday. It only said, “President Trump remains committed to making progress toward the Singapore commitments of transformed relations, building lasting peace, and complete denuclearization,” reiterating a position it has held whenever the North fired missiles or slammed the U.S.
Experts on Korea raised a possibility of more violations by North Korea, stressing the need for more pressure on North Korea. Vincent Brooks, former commander of U.S. Forces Korea, spoke to Voice of America that the recent artillery firing drills could be a signal of more violations to come. "I wish we no longer consider adjustments to exercises since it is clear that North Korea is not concerned about that," he said. Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp. research center, said the U.S. should not succumb to North Korea’s military threats and instead strengthen deterrence against North Korea.