Trump chooses North Korea negotiator for No. 2 job at State Department

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Steve Biegun is shown in this undated file photo.


By JOHN HUDSON | The Washington Post | Published: November 1, 2019

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump nominated Steve Biegun to become his next deputy secretary of state on Thursday, a move that would place his top negotiator for North Korea in a position to replace Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should he run for the Senate.

Since August 2018, Biegun has led efforts to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear program, a high-wire act that remains a priority for the president.

Biegun would continue to oversee the North Korea talks if the Senate confirms him to become the nation's No. 2 diplomat, a senior administration official said, but he would leave day-to-day management of the negotiations to his deputy, Alex Wong.

Biegun has maintained favorable relations with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill through a series of blunt closed-door briefings despite overseeing contentious negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that both parties have second-guessed.

He would replace John Sullivan, whom Trump has picked to become the next U.S. ambassador to Russia. That job also requires Senate confirmation.

Biegun, 56, a former Ford Motor lobbyist and longtime Republican aide on Capitol Hill, was hired by Pompeo after Trump's first meeting with Kim in Singapore. After the two sides unveiled a four-point agreement for reducing tensions and denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, Biegun was charged with turning the vague statement into a plan to end the North's nuclear threat.

That job has proved difficult amid a stalemate between the two sides despite three high-profile meetings between Trump and Kim. No U.S. president had ever met with a North Korean leader before the Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore. The two countries remain deadlocked over North Korea's demand for partial sanctions relief in exchange for partial denuclearization, an offer U.S. officials have rejected out of concern that North Korea's nuclear program would continue to grow during a proposed interim deal.

Pompeo's future at the State Department has been the subject of continued speculation as he faces persistent questions about his involvement in Trump's effort to pressure Ukraine to open investigations into former vice president Joe Biden's son. Pompeo's trips to his home state of Kansas this year have heightened anticipation that he will announce a run for the Senate.

In the event that Pompeo leaves, Biegun could serve as acting secretary of state and potentially ascend to the top job permanently should Trump select him.

During the George W. Bush administration, Biegun served as the National Security Council executive secretary under Condoleezza Rice. In 2008, Biegun joined the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and was responsible for briefing his vice presidential running mate, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, on foreign policy.

A number of former U.S. officials released statements in support of Biegun's nomination on Thursday, including former president Barack Obama's defense secretary, Ash Carter, who called Biegun a "man of integrity and breadth of vision who has always represented the best of American policymaking."

Next month, Russia is hosting a meeting of diplomats from several nations in the region that U.S. officials hope will kick-start negotiations on denuclearizing North Korea.

The Washington Post's Carol Morello contributed to this report.

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