Pom­peo’s N. Korea en­voy can’t get face time with coun­ter­parts

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FROM PAGE ONE - By Nick Wad­hams Bloomberg News

More than three months af­ter Sec­re­tary of State Michael Pom­peo picked Stephen Biegun to lead ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea, the for­mer Ford ex­ec­u­tive has barely met of­fi­cials from Py­ongyang face-to-face.

The stand­still is a sign of how ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the U.S. and North Korea have fal­tered, forc­ing a low­er­ing of ex­pec­ta­tions, since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump met with Kim Jong Un in Sin­ga­pore in June. Biegun was ap­pointed in Au­gust to help fol­low up on the open­ing cre­ated by the sum­mit, but North Korean of­fi­cials have ig­nored Pom­peo’s in­vi­ta­tion in Septem­ber to meet with Biegun “at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity.”

Kim’s regime may feel em­bold­ened to spurn the usual chan­nels of diplo­macy be­cause Trump has em­pha­sized his per­sonal rap­port with the au­to­cratic leader and his in­ter­est in hold­ing a sec­ond sum­mit soon, ac­cord­ing to cur­rent and for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

“The North Kore­ans are dig­ging in — they just want to deal with Trump,” said Sue Mi Terry, a for­mer CIA an­a­lyst who’s now at the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Stud­ies in Washington. “Are we closer to some sort of agree­ment? I don’t think so — peo­ple that I talk to say that we’re just gen­uinely stuck.”

Pub­licly, Pom­peo has re­mained op­ti­mistic and pos­i­tive about the pace to­ward even­tual suc­cess in North Korea. Progress “has been good” and sub­stan­tive talks con­tinue, he told CNN dur­ing the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina last week.

Pri­vately, how­ever, the sec­re­tary is more down­beat. Two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with his think­ing, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied dis­cussing in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions, said Pom­peo is grow­ing ex­as­per­ated that there’s been no progress on the points spelled out at the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit.

That’s forced the sec­re­tary to scale back his ex­pec­ta­tions for when the North Korea is­sue could be re­solved, the peo­ple said. In June, Pom­peo said the bulk of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion could be com­pleted by the end of Trump’s first term. Now he — and the pres­i­dent — say they won’t be forced into “ar­ti­fi­cial time frames.”

The State Depart­ment de­clined to make Biegun avail­able for an in­ter­view. State Depart­ment of­fi­cials say he and other of­fi­cials are in “fre­quent con­tact” with North Korean lead­ers.

While there are few pub­lic signs of progress — amid re­ports that North Korea con­tin­ues to strengthen and ex­pand its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties while stop­ping short of mis­sile launches and bomb tests — some an­a­lysts say there may be more go­ing on be­hind the scenes. They point to re­cent South Korean me­dia re­ports that Andy Kim, the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency’s top Korea of­fi­cer, met this week with North Korean of­fi­cials in the de­mil­i­ta­rized zone be­tween the two Koreas.

A CIA spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment on Kim’s travel or con­firm whether he met with North Korean of­fi­cials. Kim, who has an­nounced plans to re­tire, was a key in­ter­locu­tor with North Korean of­fi­cials when Pom­peo vis­ited the coun­try as CIA direc­tor and, later, as sec­re­tary of state.

“The West­ern me­dia is com­pletely miss­ing the story of U.S.-North Korea con­tacts other than those at a level of Am­bas­sador Biegun or above,” said Joel Wit, a se­nior fel­low at the Stim­son Cen­ter in Washington who was in­volved in North Korea talks from 1993 to 1995. “There ev­i­dently have been some work­ing-level con­tacts that un­doubt­edly are fo­cused on sub­stan­tive is­sues.”

Pom­peo met South Korea’s For­eign Minister Kang Kyung­wha on Thurs­day. The State Depart­ment said they reaf­firmed their “iron­clad al­liance” and pledged to main­tain co­or­di­na­tion. South Korea has moved to ease some ten­sions with its north­ern neigh­bor, send­ing a train across the bor­der and de­mol­ish­ing some mil­i­tary out­posts in con­junc­tion with Py­ongyang, even as the U.S. calls for a united front on in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

Yet within the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, there are grow­ing strains over how much pa­tience to show with North Korea’s go-slow ap­proach on joint talks. The snubs are hard to ig­nore: on an Oc­to­ber trip to Py­ongyang, Biegun’s likely coun­ter­part, Vice Minister for For­eign Af­fairs Choe Son Hui, was out of the coun­try meeting of­fi­cials in Rus­sia and China.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton sig­naled grow­ing im­pa­tience at a Wall Street Jour­nal con­fer­ence this week.

“They have not lived up to the com­mit­ments so far,” Bolton said of North Korea. In a sec­ond sum­mit, he said Trump and Kim are “go­ing to dis­cuss this and look at the com­mit­ments that were made in Sin­ga­pore and have a dis­cus­sion about how they’re go­ing to ac­com­plish those com­mit­ments.”

AN­DREW HAR­RER / BLOOMBERG

Pri­vately, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo is frus­trated with the lack of speed at which United States-North Korea re­la­tions are mov­ing.

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