Trump's North Korea envoy Biegun: a succesful man in an unattainable job?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Days earlier than a second U.S.-North Korea summit, a lot rests on the shoulders of a former auto government looking for widespread floor between an American president searching for a giant overseas coverage win and a North Korean chief who appears unlikely handy him one.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Particular Consultant for North Korea Stephen Biegun listens to South Korea’s Overseas Minister Kang Kyung-wha throughout their assembly on the overseas ministry in Seoul, South Korea on February 9, 2019. Ed JONES/Pool through REUTERS/File Picture

Stephen Biegun, named Donald Trump’s particular envoy for North Korea six months in the past, flew to Hanoi forward of the Feb. 27-28 assembly within the Vietnamese capital the place Trump hopes to get nearer to his purpose of persuading Pyongyang to surrender a nuclear weapons program that threatens the USA.

In conferences together with his North Korean counterpart, Biegun, a 55-year-old former Ford Motor Co government, goals to hammer out a joint summit assertion displaying concrete progress past obscure commitments agreed by Trump and North Korean chief Kim Jong Un at their first assembly in June.

It’s a tall order, even for somebody accustomed to powerful assignments.

Earlier than becoming a member of Ford as head of worldwide authorities relations, Biegun was handed the job of giving Sarah Palin a crash course in overseas coverage when she was John McCain’s 2008 presidential working mate.

Such expertise may show useful in explaining what’s achievable to Trump, who got here into workplace equally missing in diplomatic expertise and has set his sights on North Korea as one subject he can tout as a significant success that has eluded his predecessors.

Whereas Biegun labored for many years as congressional staffer and as a White Home overseas coverage aide beneath President George W. Bush, his newest appointment was initially greeted with skepticism, given he was primarily a Russia specialist with little publicity to the complicated North Korea downside.

However a number of North Korea consultants who’ve since suggested Biegun advised Reuters they’ve been struck by how methodical he was in taking the time to speak to as a lot of them as doable and described him as a fast learner.

Nuclear knowledgeable Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico who’s amongst those that has met Biegun, mentioned was inspired by the best way Biegun had made up for his lack of specialist information by searching for out the appropriate individuals.

“What he’s been doing is studying and gathering issues. I’m impressed by what he’s performed – he’s bought good advisers.” 

A 16-member group Biegun took with him to Pyongyang for 3 days of talks earlier this month included missile consultants, nuclear consultants and specialists in worldwide legislation.  

A Capitol Hill staffer whose Democratic Celebration has been important of Trump’s private method to North Korea, mentioned Biegun’s angle appeared “far more practical than what we’ve heard from the administration to this point.”

“He actually stands head and shoulders above the remainder … and involves this a with a comparatively contemporary set of eyes, and as somebody who isn’t making previous assumptions but additionally who isn’t making the unsuitable assumptions.”

Biegun has additionally received admirers in South Korea, the place one former senior diplomat mentioned he clearly had expertise in dealing with complicated points and knew how Washington works. “Amongst all of the nuclear envoys I’ve seen for many years, he have to be the weightiest,” he mentioned.

Nevertheless, it can take greater than intelligence, gravitas, an open thoughts and political savvy to persuade North Korea to desert a nuclear weapons program its ruling household has lengthy seen as important to its survival.

Biegun has prevented formal media interviews, however did ship a wide-ranging speech at Stanford College on Jan. 31, when he admitted that regardless of months of U.S.-North Korea talks, the 2 sides nonetheless had no agreed definition of the time period “denuclearisation.”

And despite Trump’s declaration after the final summit that the nuclear menace from North Korea was over, the nation has but to comply with freeze manufacturing of fissile materials and its missile program, regardless of a de facto moratorium on nuclear and missile testing since 2017.

Biegun has mentioned he will likely be searching for each in Hanoi and also will be trying to agree a roadmap for a presumably prolonged post-summit negotiation course of.


But neither the U.S. intelligence neighborhood, nor regional army commanders consider North Korea will agree to surrender all of its nuclear weapons.

Whereas welcoming an easing of tensions, critics fear the Trump administration – Biegun included – is now following Pyongyang’s playbook by dropping previous calls for for full denuclearisation earlier than any concessions.

Trump and U.S. officers insist North Korea’s full and verified denuclearisation stays the last word purpose, however consultants say the mechanics of a negotiated course of imply this might take a few years – if it occurs in any respect.

Trump’s shut involvement may show a blended blessing for Biegun.

In contrast to predecessors, Biegun has had important direct contact with Trump, together with involvement in White Home talks with North Korean officers and an Oval Workplace assembly with the president in December.

However Trump has generally demonstrated a bent to disregard advisers and act on impulse.

Biegun, based on a veteran American North Korea hand,”is a prisoner … of a president who has little interest in the substance of the problems.” “The president’s precedence is himself – his model,” the particular person mentioned, talking on situation of anonymity.

Biegun can also be beholden to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a trusted Trump aide with a status for following the president’s marching orders and for not often contradicting him.

Whereas Pompeo has general management of North Korea coverage, Trump’s nationwide safety adviser, John Bolton, recognized for hawkish views on a variety of world points, has appeared to fade into the background on North Korea since his requires the nation’s fast disarmament almost derailed the primary summit.

The extent of Bolton’s involvement within the Hanoi assembly stays unclear.

Analysts say that for Biegun’s methodical method to prevail he might want to ship a semblance of progress in Hanoi. They warn Trump’s style for a showy second and obvious lack of persistence with the kind of detailed drawn-out haggling any lasting deal would require may complicate Biegun’s process.

A photograph Trump tweeted on Christmas Day displaying him studying a memo at his desk within the Oval Workplace whereas Biegun and White Home adviser Allison Hooker stand on his facet, trying on, captured the awkwardness of his subordinates’ function. right here

Slideshow (three Photographs)

Toby Dalton, of the Nuclear Coverage Program at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace, who was amongst Biegun’s advisers, famous he had left himself ample leeway in his Stanford speech for a motive.

“This displays uncertainly about what U.S. coverage is,” he mentioned. “U.S. coverage is what the president says it’s on any given day.”

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Enhancing by Mary Milliken and Tomasz Janowski

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