North Korea: "The risk of failure is... extraordinarily high"
It hasn't gotten as much attention in recent weeks as other global trouble spots, but North Korea will still be an agenda-topper for President Obama. But who will lead the U.S. delegation to the ongoing six-party talks? One possibility, sources told The Cable, is the official who had the job under President Bush: Amb. Chris Hill.
Former Clinton-era State Department counselor Wendy Sherman, a close Hillary Clinton advisor, had been under consideration for a dual role as Clinton counselor and U.S. rep. to the North Korea talks, and sources said the job was hers if she wanted it. But sources said she may not choose to go into the administration at this time, despite serving as one of the co-leads for the Obama transition team reviewing the State Department (Sherman did not respond to a query.)
North Korea experts say that if Sherman isn't interested in the job, other leading contenders aside from Hill are Frank Jannuzi, an East Asia specialist on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who led the Korea team on Obama's campaign; former U.S. Korea envoy Charles L. "Jack" Pritchard; and Mitchell Reiss, a former head of State Department policy planning who is currently a dean at the College of William & Mary.
Reiss's prospects as a moderate Republican and ex-Bush appointee were unclear. "Mitchell [Reiss] is close to Gen. Colin Powell and served as a senior foreign policy advisor to Mitt Romney," said one Asia hand who served as an advisor to the Obama campaign who thought Reiss was a leading contender.
"I am not privy to the speculation," said Pritchard in an e-mail. "I expect I'll be at the Korea Policy Institute another year."
While U.S. policy to North Korea conducted through the established framework of the six party talks may have a lot of continuity with second term Bush policy, the job itself may be different than in the Bush era. The Obama transition has concluded "that it was a mistake for [Chris] Hill to serve both as EAP assistant secretary and rep to the six-party talks," said the former Obama campaign Asia hand. "Handling the North Korea nuclear negotiations is really a full-time job," and so the two positions will be separated (with Kurt Campbell taking the post of assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs).
Said one of the discussed candidates for the Korea envoy job: "My view is one has to be smart enough to be offered the job, and dumb enough to take it. The risk of failure is extraordinarily high."
Then again, whoever takes the job will fare better than Hill did during the Bush administration, argued the Obama campaign hand: "The White House and State Department will be on the same page," the Asia hand said. "That immeasurably strengthens our diplomatic approach. Hill constantly had to look over his shoulder and was being undercut by the neocons and Cheney. ... He did as well as possible under the circumstances. The new [Korea envoy], whether Hill or someone else, will have a much easier time of it."
He interpreted recent rumblings from North Korea during the U.S. presidential transition as a somewhat predictable message that, "'We are important enough to be at the top of the president's national security agenda, and we are not willing to be subordinated.' .... If the president thought he was going to focus on Afghanistan and Iraq now and deal with North Korea later, Pyongyang is saying, 'No, they are dealing with us now.'"
- Sources tell The Cable that former NSC official and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual, currently vice president and director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, is a leading contender for undersecretary of state for global affairs, or "G." Pascual did not immediately respond to a query. UPDATE: Sources in the Obama campaign and NGO circles say another person thought to be in the mix for "G" is energy expert and former Gore advisor and NSC official David Sandalow, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
- The New York Times reports that former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who successfully led Northern Ireland peace talks for the Clinton administration, is a top contender for Middle East envoy. Sources have previously suggested that former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross may serve as a kind of coordinator of the various U.S. special envoys to the Middle East being considered to be run out of the State Department. A Washington Democratic foreign policy hand tells The Cable that Mitchell has been offered the job, but it is not clear if he has accepted.
- Sources say there are two leading contenders to head INR, the State Department's intelligence bureau: Christopher Kojm, a former INR official, deputy director of the 9/11 Commission, and senior advisor to the Iraq Study Group, and Jennifer Sims, a former deputy assistant secretary for intelligence coordination and State Department intelligence advisor, now with Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies. Both Sims and Kojm have served as members of the Obama national security transition team. (Neither could be reached.)
- CSIS Asia hand Derek Mitchell is being discussed as a likely deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia.
- We've also heard that former NSC, State Department and USTR official Jeffrey Bader, who served as the senior lead for the team of 60 people advising the Obama campaign on Asia, has been tapped for NSC senior director on Asia. Gary Samore has taken another NSC post, as senior director for nonproliferation. Samore did not respond to a query.
- Noted: David Ignatius' "exit interview" with retiring Foreign Service veteran and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. Any readers hearing who is being discussed to succeed Crocker in Iraq? What other names are you hearing?