Expert says Pompeo could boost negotiations with N. Korea: Yonhap

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-03-14 08:01 Updated : 2018-03-14 08:01
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[EPA/Yonhap News Photo]

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump's pick of Mike Pompeo as his new top diplomat could lend credibility to any future negotiations with North Korea, a U.S. expert said.

Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, made the remark shortly after Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and named the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in his place.

The surprise announcement came less than a week after the U.S. president accepted an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to talks about the regime's denuclearization.

"One of the key features for any negotiator is that they have to be able to credibly represent their leadership," Denmark, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, told a forum here. "That your counterpart knows that whatever deal you make, you know that your boss will back you up."

Trump and Tillerson were portrayed in the media as having "a lot of problems" and not seeing "eye to eye on a whole host of issues," the expert noted.

"If Pompeo can credibly say he represents the president and if the president is able to convey that sort of representational status, then it may make Pompeo a more credible negotiator in that, potentially more than Tillerson was, just because of the differences he had with the president," he explained.

Trump has said he will meet with Kim before the end of May to achieve the permanent denuclearization of the regime. It would be the first summit between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, following a year of heightened tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Other analysts pointed to a potentially diminishing role for diplomacy in future engagements with the North.

"I think on (the) one hand you can say it's not a good sign in terms of diplomacy, just because Pompeo seems a little bit more hard on North Korea than Tillerson," Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the same forum. "But this (Tillerson's firing) has been out there as news for truly about at least six months ... so I don't think it comes as a major shock. So I'm not sure if it's going to have such a great impact."

Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, raised the point that Pompeo has generally been perceived as aligned with Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, on the need to consider a preventive attack on the North.

"If Tillerson is out and Pompeo is in, some would see that as 'you have more advocates for a preventive attack if this diplomacy thing doesn't work,'" he said.