NBC recently reported that Joseph Y. Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, is struggling to find ways to reopen talks between the U.S. and North Korea, and is considering the option of dispatching Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and a high-level envoy to Pyongyang. The report indicated that Yun, the U.S. chief nuclear negotiator, had asked congressional officials to persuade the Trump administration to prioritize diplomacy over the exchange of inflammatory rhetoric that appears to be plunging the two sides into conflict. Yun has reportedly told congressional aides and government officials that the White House has “handicapped” diplomacy.
Although the news coverage does not reveal the entirety of the diplomat’s comments or the context in which he made such remarks, the comments are hard to ignore, since Yun is a key U.S. nuclear negotiator and his remarks have implications at this nuclear moment. We are left to wonder what happened, and why he ended up enlisting help from Capitol Hill. Yun, presumably, has personally targeted President Donald Trump, whose approach to the North Korea problem has oscillated between two extremes, with neither a general platform nor any specific strategy.
Trump’s approach to the North is far from a strategic attempt to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula – it is neither based on a meticulous review of the North Korea policy of his administration nor designed in close cooperation with the South. In fact, many have criticized the president for responding to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear provocations on a whim, and for using the North Korea problem in an attempt to take the easy way out of political difficulties at home, namely the chaotic political environment in Washington and the slippage in his approval ratings. With the region’s future at stake, the nuclear threats from the reclusive country should not be downplayed, which is what is currently being done by the American leadership. This is why South Korea cannot dismiss the struggles of the top U.S. diplomat, who is surrounded by Washington hard-liners, as someone else’s business and therefore not its own.
A peaceful resolution to the North Korea issue must be considered an unshakable principle in dealing with the recalcitrant regime. That is, a diplomatic solution is crucial for the North Korea problem; it is of great significance that there has been, conveniently, an attempt to pursue the problem from inside the U.S. executive branch. Hopefully, the Trump administration will accommodate the opinions of the U.S. foreign service and willingly open talks and negotiations with Kim’s regime.
The Moon administration, too, needs to actively support such diplomatic efforts and work closely with Washington, as Yun’s diplomatic solution to the missile crisis is in line with the administration’s North Korea policy, involving sanctions, talks and an opposition to war in the region. It is notable that Yun’s claim calling for a high-level special envoy for North Korea came at an opportune time.
Any measure that can break the impasse in any way is legitimate amid the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.