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Tillerson’s Out, But Preparations For A Trump-Kim Jong Un Meeting Continue

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s shocking departure from the Department of State is not expected to impact preparations for the proposed summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Tillerson was to meet South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha Thursday, but she will instead meet with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, a South Korean foreign ministry official told Yonhap News Wednesday.

“The two sides share a recognition that it is important to maintain firm coordination through close communication via diplomatic channels despite the personnel replacement,” the official revealed.

The South Korean presidential office also commented on the situation, stressing that the situation remains unchanged.

“The North Korea-U.S. summit will be held as scheduled as President Trump has personally expressed his decision to do so,” a Blue House official explained Wednesday.

“I believe the fact that President Trump tapped his close advisor as the state secretary shows that he sought to enhance the teamwork of the foreign relations team ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit,” a separate official said.

Expected for months, the president fired Tillerson Tuesday and appointed CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take his place.

In the wake of Tillerson’s fall, a senior administration revealed that the move was tied to the upcoming meeting with the North Korean leader. “The president wanted to make sure to have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations,” the official explained.

Even before the sudden personnel change, Trump did not have a team in position to handle the planned talks. Tillerson had been largely sidelined, the U.S. has yet to appoint an ambassador to South Korea, and the top negotiator on North Korea Joseph Yun recently retired.

It is unclear how the president intends to move forward, but the removal of Tillerson may be an opportunity to build the kind of diplomatic team he desires for the meeting with Kim Jong Un, an unprecedented meeting for a sitting American president.

Pompeo is perceived as a North Korea hawk, but he and Trump are, according to the president, “on the same wavelength.”

Seoul and Washington continue to talk about the meeting between Trump and Kim, which is expected to follow a summit between the South Korean president and the North Korean leader. However, Pyongyang has yet to say anything.

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