The steady stream of diplomatic meetings between the US and North Korea since June 2018 has so far yielded few concrete measures but a general easing of tensions. However, North Korea has recently issued a demand that the U.S. appears poised to ignore: to remove US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from the process. On 18 April, Pyongyang, via their foreign ministry official Kwon Jong Gun, labelled Pompeo “reckless” and immature per AFP. North Korea also took issue with Pompeo admitting that North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un was a “tyrant” in response to a question in Congress. However, the U.S. has met these concerns with little urgency, simply saying that they “remain ready to engage North Korea in a constructive negotiation,” AFP reports. Pompeo has since commented at a joint press conference that “Nothing’s changed. We’re continuing to work to negotiate. I’m still in charge of the team.”
We can only speculate about North Korea’s motivation behind this demand. Bruce Klinger, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation think tank, told AFP that he believed that the North was “…trying to wean the president away from his advisors.” He continued, “I think they’re trying to get another summit… They feel that is where they can make more traction by appealing to Trump’s sense of wanting to have success or maintaining the success they have already claimed.” Meanwhile, Jenny Town, managing editor of 38 North, a website that analyses North Korean politics, stated that “I don’t think it’s going to gain them [North Korea] anything… It only makes it more difficult to get back to negotiations.”
In any case, while it is clear from the outside that President Trump has had little issue dismissing various White House appointees, Pompeo is one of the few advisors in the administration with which Trump has not publicly clashed. As it stands, the North is unlikely to rid itself of Pompeo, and this may not stand in the way of negotiations as much as it may seem. Last July, North Korea also had issues with Pompeo’s style, calling him “gangster-like”, and yet proceeded to host him in Pyongyang months later. If their aim is to take advantage of Trump’s potential weaknesses by isolating him from his advisors, North Korea may find that this simply halts progress by weakening the relationship with the other side’s chief negotiator.
Ultimately, while the discussion around North Korea has appeared to become less frantic, the months after the February Hanoi summit have shown few results towards North Korean denuclearization, per CNN. Recent meetings in Washington between Japan and the US on the subject have reiterated that the US and Japan share the same approach to the issue, both favouring the normalisation of relations with North Korea. However, this is contingent on its progress towards denuclearization. So, while the geopolitical wheel continues to move slowly around the issue of North Korea, it appears that North Korea is intent on jamming a stick into the spokes to the detriment of all parties.