With Obama envoy Stephen
Bosworth, above, finally visiting Pyongyang and a lot of names floating around, Cable readers may be wondering: Who's in
charge of Korea, anyway? We've got you covered.
In general, Obama's Korea team is largely devoid of the
factionalism and infighting that hampered Korea policymaking during the Bush years.
The players, although spread across agencies and with various responsibilities,
are largely on the same page. Here are the main actors to watch:
At the top level, strategic decisions are being guided by James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state, and Jeffrey Bader, the NSC's senior director
for Asia. Both are well-regarded among Asia experts.
Steinberg, who supports U.N. sanctions on the regime of Kim Jong Il, is said to be central to the
administration's policy of slow-walking the engagement with North Korea,
patiently waiting for the DPRK to exhaust its pattern of threats and come to
the realization that the Obama administration is willing to engage, but not at
the expense of backtracking too much on promises made in the past.
This approach is a stark departure from the first Bush term,
when Vice President Dick Cheney and Under
Secretary of State John Bolton teamed
up to push for regime change. The policy is also quite different from that of
Bush's second term, when Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill worked furiously to produce short-term incremental
progress points, the survivability of which is now in question.
"Steinberg is really running the show at that level," said
one Asia hand, describing the thinking as an ABC (Anything But Chris [Hill])
approach to North Korea.
Kurt Campbell, Hill's successor as assistant
secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, isn't dual-hatted as Obama's
lead on the North Korean nuclear negotiations, like Hill was. Campbell, who coauthored
with Steinberg last year (Difficult
Transitions: Foreign Policy Troubles at the Outset of Presidential Power),
has focused instead on shoring up relations all over the region, traveling
furiously to such places as China, Burma, and Japan. He maintains a presence in
the Korea debate, though it's not clear how much of a role he has.
Bader took the lead on the president's trip to Asia, during
which the South Korea visit was the most significant success. Observers credit Obama's
increasingly strong relationship with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in part to Bader's assiduous
Bader is aided by fellow NSC staffer Daniel Russell, a career Foreign Service
officer with stints in Tokyo and Seoul who previously headed State's Japan
desk. Russell is in the job formerly held by Victor Cha, who currently teaches at Georgetown University. Whereas
Cha was seen as a reliable hawk, an accomplished expert but with an agenda,
Russell is viewed as a technocrat, a workhorse, a professional doing his job.
If he has a strong leaning on Korea policy, he keeps it closely held.
At the Pentagon, retired General Chip Gregson is the Asia point man,
and like Campbell has a broad portfolio. He is seen as a more reserved but
nonetheless effective manager as compared with his most prominent predecessor,
former Deputy Under Secretary Richard
Gregson's two main aides on Korea are Principal Deputy Derek Mitchell and Deputy Michael Schiffer, both of whom are
Obama appointees and close friends and work in tandem on Asia issues, including
Korea. Mitchell did some groundbreaking work on the U.S.-ROK relationship when
he was a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and
Schiffer is more of a Japan hand by training. Although Mitchell technically
outranks Schiffer, they are seen as close collaborators who divide
responsibilities as needed.
For example, Mitchell went
to San Diego last month to attend the Northeast
Asia Cooperation Dialogue, which included North Korean government
representatives, and Schiffer is in
Pyongyang right now with Bosworth and Sung Kim, the special representative for North Korea and the special
envoy to the Six-Party Talks, respectively.
Under Bush, Kim was Hill's No. 2, but Hill was
excruciatingly involved in all aspects of the negotiations. Bosworth, who is
handling his administration duties part time while serving as the dean of the
Fletcher School, is now delegating more and more responsibilities to Kim.
Kim represents the institutional memory of the State
Department on North Korea and conducted
the behind-the-scenes work to set up this week's trip. By designating Kim
as the head of the U.S. delegation to the talks and elevating Bosworth to a broader
title, the administration's hope is that Bosworth will be able to find North
Korean interlocutors at a higher level. (That remains
to be seen.)
Bosworth, an elder statesman who has served as the U.S.
ambassador to South Korea, the Philippines, and Tunisia, has also been charged
with mending relationships with allies. He is seen as good fit for Obama's
wait-and-see approach to North Korea.
"Steve Bosworth is going to Pyongyang without the personal
ambitions that so surrounded Chris Hill," said one Asia hand. "So he will have
the political space and personal judgment to take advantage of opportunities if
On the economic side, Korea policy is influenced mainly by a
triumvirate of officials, made up of Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, James Loi, the White House's lead on Asian economic issues, and Kurt Tong, the head of State's
Korea desk and State's lead for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Cutler is also in
Seoul this week.
But the Obama administration is still searching for a trade
policy and movement on the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement
is not expected anytime soon. Political bosses in the White House are said
to be avoiding any movement on trade before the November 2010 midterm elections.
"What you don't have is anyone taking any leadership at all
on economic issues related to Korea," one Korea watcher explained.
Two other players to watch are the new special envoy for
North Korean human rights, Robert King, and senior Senate
Foreign Relations Committee staffer Frank Jannuzi.
King is putting life into the position first awarded to but
largely neglected by Jay Leftkowitz.
Leftkowitz was a part-time envoy and his main objective, to put human rights on
the agenda in the Six-Party Talks, was thwarted by all of the other actors.
King is in Geneva this week representing the U.S. at the U.N.'s periodical
review on North Korean human rights. He is said to have good access to
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
and close ties on the Hill based on his long experience as a staffer for the
Jannuzi was a key player on then-Senator Obama's campaign
Asia policy team. Close to Vice President Joseph
Biden, he was widely expected to move to the administration, but even
though he remains at his committee post, he is considered an influential player
on all things Korea and has the ear of Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-MA.
Outside experts see the Obama team as still searching for a
clear voice on dealing with North Korea and building relations with the South.
"At this point, the process is the policy," one expert
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images