Memo to U.S. Mission in Vienna: Obama No Longer President
Quite likely you don't spend a lot of time following the doings of Andrew J. Schofer, a career State Department officer who is currently the Charge d'Affaires at the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna (UNVIE). Nor was Schofer anywhere high on my radar until this week, when he delivered a statement on North Korea that seemed to me slightly at odds with what Ambassador Nikki Haley was saying at the United Nations in New York. Which sent me to the web site for his legation in Vienna ... but before I get ahead of myself on that, here's a bit more background.
Haley, at a UN press stakeout in New York, following a Security Council meeting this Wednesday on North Korea, said that while the U.S. reevaluates how to handle North Korea, "all options are on the table." But Haley also went out of her way to imply that the Trump administration is far from eager to accede to pressures, such as those from China, to default to talks or deals with North Korea. Referring to North Korea's tyrant, Kim Jong Un, Haley told reporters:
I appreciate all of my counterparts wanting to talk about talks and negotiations. We are not dealing with a rational person.
To my mind, Haley may be wrong in her assessment of Kim Jong Un as irrational. We can debate whether Kim is actually a madman incapable of rational calculation, or a wily thug, who in the interest of maintaining his hereditary totalitarian throne has been proving adept, like his forebears, at calibrating what he can get away with in the way of threats, hostage-taking, assassinations, executions, extortion rackets, and nuclear missile projects -- all in the interest of consolidating his grip on power and expanding his reach.
But wherever one comes down on the crazy-Kim question, Haley deserves applause for deflecting the pressures to start bargaining with Kim. Deals with North Korea do not work, and will not work while Kim remains in power. The long record of U.S. talks, deals and attempted talks with North Korea is one of humiliation and failure for the U.S., as North Korea's dynastic Kim regime has repeatedly pocketed any gains, milked every concession, cheated on every agreement, and carried on with its atrocities and its nuclear missile projects.
Which brings me to the statement delivered this Wednesday by U.S. Charge D'Affaires Schofer, at a meeting of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Schofer's words did not quite mesh with Haley's polite dismissal of pressure for "talks and negotiations." Rather, Schofer repeated what was for years the refrain of the Obama administration -- and of former Secretary of State John Kerry, in particular -- offering Pyongyang, under conditions North Korea had previously agreed to, and then violated, the option of returning to the bargaining table:
We have consistently communicated to Pyongyang that we remain open to meaningful negotiations based on the understandings reached by all members of the Six-Party Talks in the 2005 Joint Statement.
Whether Schofer on matters involving North Korea is genuinely out of sync with Haley, or with the Trump administration generally, I don't know. But I do know this: Schofer's statement was different enough from Haley's, and similar enough to those of the Obama administration, that after reading it I went looking for more information on the web site of the U.S. Mission currently run by Schofer in Vienna -- an important legation, not least, because it represents the U.S. at the IAEA.
It is also, as it turns out, a legation that is in some respects almost two months out of date on a major change at the White House -- meaning the inauguration on Jan. 20 of a new president. Perhaps someone at the State Department should remind Schofer that Obama has left office? Here's an excerpt from the web site of the U.S. Mission in Vienna (boldface is mine):
UNVIE’s mission is to conduct effective multilateral diplomacy with International Organizations in Vienna to advance President Obama’s commitment to design and implement global approaches to reduce global threats and seize global opportunities.
Yes, this is small stuff, in its way -- that seven weeks after Trump's inauguration, the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna has not gotten around to fully updating its web site. (Surely the problem here is one of carelessness, not political bias among career foreign service officers.) But details matter, especially in the symbolically freighted realms of diplomacy.
As the Trump administration now toils to reduce the threats and clean up the mess bequeathed by Obama's "global approaches" -- including Obama's gross failure to block North Korea's prolific nuclear-weapons advances of recent years -- perhaps it's not too much to ask that America's Mission to the UN in Vienna get entirely on board with the new administration, even if that entails updating its web site to reflect in full that Trump, not Obama, is now the president.