OTTAWA — Mike Pompeo spent his Easter weekend in North Korea as Donald Trump’s CIA director, but it’s almost certain he will be leaving America’s chair vacant at a major upcoming G7 meeting in Toronto.
Pompeo is still in the middle of an acrimonious confirmation process to become the new U.S. secretary of state and it seems unlikely he will be formally installed in his new job by the weekend.
That means Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland won’t have an equal American counterpart when she convenes a meeting of G7 foreign ministers on Sunday to discuss a broad range of international security issues, including Syria, Ukraine, Myanmar, Venezuela and the ongoing nuclear tension with North Korea.
Pompeo would have had a lot to bring to the table on that last topic, since Trump confirmed Wednesday that Pompeo paid a clandestine visit to North Korea almost two weeks ago for talks with its leader Kim Jong Un.
Since that historic visit, the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee has been grilling Pompeo on his nomination to replace Rex Tillerson, who was fired by Trump.
Neither Freeland’s office nor the U.S. embassy in Ottawa would offer any comment on the possible U.S. participation in one of the main ministerial meetings in advance of the G7 leaders’ June summit in Quebec — a meeting that is expected to mark Trump’s Canadian debut.
Peter Boehm, the top Canadian organizer or sherpa, had no clear answer about the unfolding scenario during an interview this week. Boehm said he couldn’t say whether Pompeo would be confirmed in time.
“If not, there usually would be a substitute. I can’t speculate on that. Deputy secretary perhaps?”
But Boehm added: “The Americans will be there. They have been active participants in the negotiations as they are on all things.”
John Kirton, a University of Toronto expert on the summit, said Pompeo’s absence won’t undermine this weekend’s meetings because the U.S. positions on key issues are well known. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will also be at the meeting as part of a discussion with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and their interior ministry counterparts.
“Pompeo would of course have been useful on North Korea, but there are other ways the ministers can talk to him,” Kirton said.
Pompeo faces enough opposition on the Senate committee to block his nomination. That would send the matter to the full Senate for a vote, but without the committee’s recommendation.
Freeland was asked recently during a public talk at the University of Toronto about how the changes in the Trump administration affected her interactions. Of Tillerson, the minister said: “I found him to be a really good partner.”
Freeland was recently in Japan and South Korea to meet her counterparts there and to hear first-hand about the latest developments in the North Korea nuclear crisis as part of her G7 preparations. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is expected to meet Kim next week.
Trump said Pompeo’s meeting would set the stage for his own planned summit with the North Korean leader, expected in the coming months. “Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!”
G7 finance ministers expressed concern Wednesday in North Korea’s ability to avoid sanctions and gain access to the international financial system. In a joint statement, the ministers said they would work with financial institutions in their countries to crack down on “North Korea’s illicit global financial activity.” Finance Minister Bill Morneau is to host his fellow G7 ministers in British Columbia late next month.
Freeland’s G7 preparations continued this week in France and Britain.
On Wednesday, she and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson held a roundtable on the crisis that has forced more than 670,000 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to flee to Bangladesh after facing persecution that she and others have branded as ethnic cleansing.
Freeland has added the Rohingya crisis to this weekend’s G7 agenda, following a report by Canada’s special envoy Bob Rae, who called for Canada to help lead an independent international war crimes investigation into the events in Myanmar.
Johnson said a credible independent investigation into reported atrocities is an important step.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press