What in the world is going on? U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his plan on Aug. 23 to make his fourth visit to North Korea. The next day, President Donald Trump revealed that he asked his top diplomat to cancel the trip.
"I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," tweeted the U.S. president as a reason for the decision. The secretary of state lost face, and this about-face shed light on confusion in coordination between the White House and the State Department. It is an unusual development in U.S. politics in recent years, and dealt a blow to the denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
Moreover, the incident is yet another indication that the goal of denuclearization is faltering as America's diplomacy boat goes through rough waters, and an air of potential mutiny appears to be emerging on board. The president at the helm has a serious problem with his sense of direction, and the ship is further adrift.
Secretary Pompeo had named Ford Motor Co. vice president Stephen Biegun as his special representative on North Korea and planned to take him to Pyongyang. We don't know if this visit would have produced any results. But the fact that President Trump, who was so proud of the fruits of his June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, suddenly presented a negative view about denuclearization, once again triggered substantial worries about the future of such negotiations.
President Trump was quick to point out that the talks are not going ahead because China is not helping. The Chinese Foreign Ministry hit back saying the U.S. president was putting "the blame on others," and criticized the U.S. statement as "irresponsible" and Washington's handling of the denuclearization issue as "impulsive."
But this kind of infighting will lead nowhere. The most important problem is the U.S. failure to come up with concrete results leading to denuclearization and a clear timing to reach that goal, following a vague joint statement issued by the U.S. and North Korea in the summit.
This situation should be turned around as soon as possible. President Trump should refrain from acting on his own, and actively implement measures to achieve North Korea's denuclearization through team play by the U.S. government. In doing so, it would be helpful to listen humbly to the opinions of its allies including Japan.
Japan should complain to the Trump administration face-to-face. Japan is at the forefront of potential threats from Pyongyang, and may end up facing off with a North Korea armed with a larger nuclear arsenal if the Washington-Pyongyang talks turn out unsuccessful. At this critical juncture, the government of Japan must make the right choices if it really wants to guarantee the future safety of its people.