Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has tapped a senior executive at Ford Motor Co. to be his special envoy for North Korea as the Trump administration continues its high-stakes negotiations aimed at eliminating the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
In an announcement at the State Department on Thursday, Pompeo said that Stephen Biegun, the vice president of international governmental affairs at Ford, would handle day-to-day talks with Pyongyang and that the two men would travel to North Korea next week to resume the negotiations.
In choosing Biegun, Pompeo has continued a pattern set by President Trump to award critical government jobs to people with private-sector experience at premier American companies.
Pompeo predicted that Biegun, who also served in key foreign policy positions on Capitol Hill and the George W. Bush administration, would draw on his private-sector experience to assist him in his role as a senior diplomat.
“In this job, he closely engaged foreign governments to advance Ford’s goals all around the world,” Pompeo said. “He will now employ that same skill and dedication on behalf of the American people to make sure that their interests are well served in respect to North Korea.”
Pompeo did not say whether he planned to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next week during what will be his fourth visit to North Korea. During his third trip, in March, Pompeo expected to meet the young leader but Kim did not show up. U.S. diplomats privately conceded that the trip was a disappointment.
In recent weeks, negotiations have stalled as North Korea demands Washington make concessions before it takes any steps to denuclearize. In particular, Kim’s government wants the United States to agree to declare an end to the Korean War, according to U.S. and Korean diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive discussions.
U.S. officials have said any steps toward formally ending the war would first require additional concessions from North Korea, such as the disclosure of its nuclear arsenal. Some U.S. officials also fear that Pyongyang will use a peace declaration to ask for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. Trump has privately expressed frustration with the lack of progress in the talks but has publicly hailed them as a historic success.
The selection of Biegun follows a string of special-envoy hires by Pompeo. Last week, Pompeo added a special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, and a special representative for “Syria engagement,” James Jeffrey. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also announced that retired Army Col. Joel Rayburn would become deputy assistant secretary for Levant affairs and “special envoy for Syria.”
The State Department also has special envoys to manage hostage affairs (Robert O’Brien), the crisis in Ukraine (Kurt Volker) and the military campaign against the Islamic State (Brett McGurk).
Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson — a former chief executive of ExxonMobil — sought to eliminate special envoys amid bipartisan complaints that they operate in a closed loop and often fail to coordinate with the rest of the State Department. Many special-envoy positions were created during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. Adding the positions signals an emphasis on a particular issue and allows a point person to report directly to the secretary of state.
After Pompeo’s remarks, Biegun said the negotiations will be “tough to resolve, but the president has created an opening and it’s one we must take by seizing every possible opportunity to realize the vision for a peaceful future for the people of North Korea.”