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Trump to promote No. 2 nuclear envoy to UN post

Feb. 12, 2020 - 15:50 By Ahn Sung-mi
Alex Wong, deputy US special representative for North Korea, is departing from Incheon International Airport on Wednesday, after his meetings with officials in Seoul. (Yonhap)

US President Donald Trump plans to nominate Alex Wong, deputy special representative for North Korea, to an ambassador-level post at the United Nations, the White House announced Tuesday.

Wong, the No. 2 man in US talks with North Korea, has been tapped to serve as the US alternative representative for special political affairs in the UN. He will also serve as an alternate US representative to the UN General Assembly.

The new post requires Senate confirmation, and the process could take more than two months.

The job shuffle was announced amid reports that suggest a loss of interest from Trump in denuclearizing North Korea, with the presidential election coming up in November. Watchers say Trump may not be willing to take a diplomatic risk by engaging with the North.

Wong has largely been in charge of the State Department’s efforts concerning North Korea, especially since Stephen Biegun, special representative for North Korea, was promoted to deputy secretary of state in December. Though Biegun retains the role of Trump’s point man on North Korea, the scope of the issues he has to cover as the No. 2 official at the State Department has raised concern over the possible diversion of his focus away from North Korea.

Wong was in Seoul this week for a meeting with his counterparts at the Foreign Ministry and the Unification Ministry to discuss various issues concerning North Korea and Seoul’s push for inter-Korean projects.

The US hasn’t yet announced who will take over Wong’s current role. The departure of Wong from the US’ North Korea team, however, could leave a wide diplomatic void in making progress with Pyongyang. US Special Envoy for North Korea Mark Lambert has also recently moved into a UN role.

This concerns Seoul as it seeks to solicit support from the US as the South Korean government is pushing for various inter-Korean projects to mend its troubled relationship with North Korea. Upon hearing a recent CNN report quoting Trump as saying he didn’t want to meet Kim until after the November election, the process of bringing Pyongyang back to the table may be drawn out further.

By Ahn Sung-mi (