The top diplomat in the U.S. State Department who is in charge of North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, is retiring this week, which comes as a surprise.
The top diplomat, who is in his early sixties, was responsible for spearheading diplomatic efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions during a year of heightened tensions which appeared to ease with North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games.
“It was completely my decision to retire at this time,” said Yun to CNN reporters on Tuesday, adding that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accepted his resignation “with regret.”
Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said that Yun who has been with the Foreign Service since 1985 decided to leave for personal reasons.
“We are sorry to see him retire, but our diplomatic efforts regarding North Korea will continue based on our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) until it agrees to begin credible talks toward a denuclearized Korean peninsula,” Nauert said.
According to CNN, Yun’s abrupt departure raises questions and adds to uncertainty over President Donald Trump’s North Korea policy as ally South Korea engages in talks with the North for the first time in years. However, Yun was known as a proponent of dialogue when it comes to dealing with North Korea.
“I think this is a huge loss for the U.S. government at a critical moment,” Abraham Denmark, the director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said.
Previously, Denmark worked closely with Yun while he was U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia during former President Barack Obama’s term.
“He was a great advocate for dialogue and for diplomacy, and I think it’s unfortunate that his voice will no longer be in the conversation inside the U.S. government,” Denmark said.
Yun was in South Korea and Japan earlier this month to speak with senior government officials regarding North Korea issues. During his stay in Tokyo, Yun said that he did not believe the U.S. was close to using a military option, though it remains on the table.
“Our policy is based on putting pressure as well as leaving the door open for a dialogue,” he said. “I think everyone wants to give diplomacy a good run.”