President Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran deal and three hostages held in North Korea for significant periods of time were returned – all in the same day.
But the problem, the New York Times wrote, was that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was not there to answer questions from the media about the Iran withdrawal.
Pompeo was in Pyongyang, North Korea, securing the release of the three hostages and making final arrangements for a summit that could end 70 years of hostility on the Korean peninsula.
Instead, the Times covered press conferences and phone calls from troubled European diplomats.
“When President Trump made the surprise announcement in March that he would soon meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was thousands of miles away, an absence interpreted as a sign of Mr. Tillerson’s irrelevance,” wrote Gardiner Harris of the New York Times.
“Mr. Trump soon replaced Mr. Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, who has promised to bring back the State Department’s swagger and import,” the article said. “But on Tuesday, when Mr. Trump made what could be the most significant diplomatic announcement of his presidency – that he would exit the Iran nuclear agreement – his chief diplomat was again thousands of miles away, this time on an unannounced visit to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, to lay further groundwork for a summit meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump.”
This absence “left perplexed European diplomats privately complaining that they were having trouble getting answers from Washington and created an uncertainty about what was next that spanned the Atlantic Ocean.”
Brian Hook, who led fruitless negotiations with Europe, was with Pompeo on the way to North Korea, and the plane they were using had unreliable communications equipment, meaning phone calls were sometimes lost mid-sentence.
The Times reported that senior State Department officials were “momentarily speechless on Tuesday when asked why Mr. Pompeo did not delay his trip by a day to be in Washington during Mr. Trump’s Iran deal announcement. Mr. Pompeo left for North Korea on Monday night.”
That meant answers to some important questions would have to wait, the Times reported.
“The senior State Department officials who briefed reporters in the moments after Mr. Trump’s announcement confirmed that they did not know whether European countries would fight the administration’s plan to reimpose sanctions on Iran, a crucial test of whether the administration’s strategy would work.”
But the administration and those covering the issue understood that the European signatories did not favor the president’s move, saying they would work around it, try to re-engage the U.S. and continue to enforce the inspections portion of the agreement on their own.
Officials did not know “whether European countries will agree to try to negotiate a new agreement with Iran or whether a tentative deal the two sides created to address Iran’s ballistic missile program would go into effect, the officials said.”
Fox News responded to the New York Times piece.
“It turned out that Pompeo’s absence was more than justified, and any aging technology on his plane didn’t prevent him from leaving Pyongyang with three Americans that have been held captive overseas,” Fox News wrote. “The detainees – Tony Kim, Kim Hak Song and Kim Dong Chul – are presumably thankful that Pompeo didn’t push back his trip to satisfy European diplomats.”