US' point man on North Korea calms rumors surrounding abrupt resignation, but worries in the State Department still remain
- The US's point man on US-North Korean relations is expected to resign due to personal reasons.
- Joseph Yun's resignation sparked rumors of policy differences with the Trump administration.
- Despite the circumstances of Yun's resignation, current and former officials are growing concerned for the State Department.
The departure of the point man on US-North Korean relations resounded across foreign policy circles on Monday, in what appears to be another setback for US diplomatic outreach on the Korean peninsula.
Joseph Yun, the State Department's special representative for North Korea policy, announced his resignation by the end of this week due to personal reasons."I thought this was a good time [to retire] in many respects, and I've been doing this work since October 2016, so it's been a while," Yun told South Korean news agency Yonhap News.
But rumors of Yun's discontent abounded due to the timing of his departure. Yun's resignation followed the scuttled nomination of Victor Cha - the former director for Asian affairs for the National Security Council - for US ambassador to South Korea in late-January.
Cha, who is heralded as a leading expert in South Korea, was believed to have partly been nixed from the running after voicing concerns over the White House's policy on North Korea. Cha's expected position has been unfilled for over a year and is currently held in the interim by chargé d'affaires Marc Knapper.
Yun addressed the rumors and denied leaving the department due to policy reasons: "I'm not leaving because of policy difference," Yun said to Yonhap News. "I wanted to emphasize that."
Despite sources saying Yun may have expressed "deep frustration" over the Trump administration casting a shadow over the State Department in matters relating to North Korea, Yun is believed to have shown interest in stepping down since last year, according to Yonhap News. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is thought to have tried preventing Yun from leaving, but ultimately gave in.Yun noted in the report that he was optimistic by the recent interest in dialogue by the US and North Korea, and wished the best for the State Department.
"I'm very hopeful about talks," Yun said to Yonhap News. "I hope there is a good dialogue, there is a peaceful resolution, improvement in the security climate on the Korean peninsula."
Regardless of the circumstances for Yun's departure, questions remain whether the vacancies at the State Department has left the US ill-equipped to handle new developments on the Korean peninsula.
Mintaro Oba, a former State Department diplomat involved in Korean affairs, said the vacancies were alarming and should be filled soon.
"I have confidence in all of them, but it does matter when important positions go unfilled," Oba told Business Insider. "The US is not as empowered as it should be and it sends a signal that we don't take these roles seriously."
Though the State Department hushed some critics after filling some of the more glaring vacancies last year, it still faces uncertainty due to its budget for the next fiscal year, which is expected to be cut by billions of dollars.
Tillerson's direction for the State Department has concerned foreign policy experts and officials who have voiced their worries. Murmurings around the State Department suggests "morale is very, very low," Oba said.Despite concerns within the State Department and from foreign policy experts, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert suggested that the agency was still capable of addressing North Korea following Yun's resignation.
"To imply that Ambassador Yun is the only one who is capable of handling North Korea would simply be wrong," Nauert said. "We have a deep bench of very experienced people."