As Robert O'Brien, who previously served as the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs but is not well-known in the foreign affairs and security circles, has been appointed as the National Security Advisor of the White House on Wednesday (local time), both the U.S. and South Korean experts are projecting that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will have even more influence over leading North Korean issues. The newly appointed national security advisor is part of the “Pompeo team” and is deemed to be more cooperative when it comes to team play, unlike his predecessor, John Bolton, who was often in conflict with the secretary of state.
O'Brien, a former lawyer, joined the 2005 United Nations General Assembly as a member of the U.S. representatives and served as a foreign affairs and security advisor for former Republican Party's presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, however hasn’t had much experience dealing with North Korea policies. The new national security advisor oversaw hostage affairs in the Trump administration, however his appointment as the Envoy for Hostage Affairs in May last year was announced after three U.S. citizens detained in North Korea were released. Therefore, his involvement in the matters seems unlikely. “O'Brien isn’t a well-known figure (in the foreign affairs and security circles),” said a South Korean government official. “It’s been known that he doesn’t have experience (fully dealing with the North Korea issues).”
This leads to the analysis that the influence of the State Department led by Pompeo over North Korea policies will become even stronger. “Negotiations with North Korea have been already led by Secretary of State Pompeo and U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun,” said David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the hawkish think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The two figures’ influence will become even bigger now.” In addition, if Biegun maintains his position as the chief representative of North Korean nuclear talks and is promoted to the Deputy Secretary of State, the power of the department over policies towards North Korea will grow even more.
O'Brien worked with the former national security advisor at the United Nations in 2005 and wrote in his column published two years ago that Bolton is a highly capable diplomat and patriot, which shows their close relationship. At the same time, some say that the new appointee is better suited for mediation, rather than standing in front of a crowd, as he is very close to several officials in high posts at the State Department, as evidenced by a strong recommendation by Pompeo during the appointment process. Therefore, the U.S. media is predicting that he will take rather low-key actions overall regarding North Korea policies and foreign affairs and security policies in the Trump administration.
South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae is expecting that O'Brien whose demeanor is opposite of ultra-hawkish Bolton’s will make it easier for communication between the two countries’ security leaders. Some predict that more reasonable conversation will be possible with regards to not only North Korean nuclear issues but also ROK-U.S. military defense costs. “We expect that bilateral communication between the two countries will go as monthly as it always has,” said presidential spokeswoman Ko Min-jung. South Korean National security director Chung Eui-yong will meet his U.S. counterpart, National Security Advisor O'Brien, for the first time during the United Nations General Assembly next week.