- Joseph Yun, the former point man on US-North Korean relations at the State Department, said he resigned because he felt “we were being marginalized.”
- Yun’s resignation in February came after months of increasingly heated rhetoric from President Donald Trump, who frequently antagonized North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over his nuclear provocations.
- Trump’s public threats to Kim and the North caused alarm in foreign-policy circles and stoked fears of a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
The former point man on US-North Korean relations shed light on the reason why he abruptly left the State Department in February, just as North Korea and South Korea began to engage in diplomatic overtures ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“To be frank with you, I believe when I left about two months ago, that as diplomat and as State Department, we were being marginalized,” Joseph Yun, former special representative for North Korea, said during a CNN interview on Tuesday. “And I felt our role was not [as] it should be, and so that’s the reason why I left.”
Yun was apparently referring to the State Department’s diminishing role in matters on the Korean Peninsula, which was due in part to rhetoric from President Donald Trump in 2017,and Trump’s public clashes with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.Trump and Tillerson reportedly disagreed about how to proceed with diplomatic talks with North Korea.
Yun’s resignation followed the scuttled nomination of Victor Cha,the former director for Asian affairs for the National Security Council who had been on deck to become the US ambassador to South Korea.
A reversal and some cautious optimism
Yun’s comments on Tuesday seem to contradict the reason he previously gave for his departure from the State Department. In February, he said it was for personal reasons and said that “this was a good time [to retire]” because he had “been doing this work since October 2016, so it’s been a while.”
“I’m not leaving because of policy difference,” Yun said to the Korean news outlet, Yonhap. “I wanted to emphasise that.”
While it was not immediately clear why Yun gave different answers to the Korean outlet and, more recently, to CNN, he credited the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on the North in his interview on Tuesday.
“We must give credit; maximum pressure has indeed put pressure on North Korea,” Yun said. “Not just North Korea, but South Korea, China and the community.”
Yun predicted that the upcoming meeting between Trump and Kim would be a “fascinating summit,” and said he was “surprised” by the progress in the diplomatic engagement with North Korea, but he remains cautiously optimistic.
“This is, I think, the most significant summit, Yun said on CNN. “For most of Koreans and Korean Americans like me, it was as momentous moment. And maybe there is something different in the feeling to third [summit]. Certainly, there are a lot of hopes.”
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