In another not-so-surprising turn of events, Russia and North Korea are taking center stage in the global headlines once again. In just one week, Kim Jong-un made his first official trip outside of North Korea, meeting with China’s Xi Jinping in Beijing. In the same week, Russia announced the expulsion of 60 U.S. diplomats and the closing the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, a tit-for-tat move following the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the U.S. and the closing of the Russian Consulate in Seattle.

Starting with North Korea, it’s quite obvious that Kim Jong-un knows he needs China in his corner, especially as he approaches the somewhat-confirmed summit in May with President Donald Trump. On the other hand, the collapse of the Kim regime could be equally detrimental to China. Waves and waves of refugees would flood the mainland and a unified Korean Peninsula would most certainly lean toward its Western allies, moving further away from China.

As I told Fox News Radio, I think four-party talks (China, North Korea, South Korea, and the U.S.) have the highest chances of successfully de-escalating this conflict. And, unfortunately for some new members of the Trump administration like National Security Advisor John Bolton, denuclearization of the Peninsula can’t be the focus of the first meeting of the two heads of state.

As I like to stay, in the end, all roads to Pyongyang lead through Beijing. I spoke with NBC Nightly News about this topic:

We also need a clear strategy from the Trump administration regarding Russia. When I served as Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, I developed a friendly relationship with the head of the Russian armed forces, General Nikolai Makarov. Our meetings occurred both in Moscow and several times in Brussels at NATO headquarters. We argued about a variety of things from the Russian invasion of Georgia to an appropriate strategy in Afghanistan, but it was an open, sensible, and pragmatic relationship.

I was therefore heartened by recent reports that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (who is also a Fletcher grad), Joe Dunford, and the current Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, are having serious discussions on timely issues like Syria with the head of the Russian armed forces, Valery Gerasimov.

Of course, these phone calls will not immediately defuse all the tensions between NATO, the West, and Russia. There will be challenges aplenty in the relationship, but we need to take an approach that says we should confront where we must (Ukraine, Syria, cyber), but cooperate where we can (counterterrorism, search-and-rescue in the Arctic, counter-piracy, and a return to cooperation in Afghanistan). This is important if we are to avoid stumbling backward into another full-blown Cold War. I wrote about this in Bloomberg and suggested a few topics of conversation that should be addressed when another NATO-Russia meeting does take place.

All of this is going to require an extreme amount of diplomacy; I’m hopeful that once Mike Pompeo is confirmed as Secretary of State, we will begin moving in the right direction. To start, Pompeo needs to be seen as a leader working from the inside out, and quickly gain the confidence of State Department professionals. After building out his interagency relationships, he’ll be ready to tackle the big diplomatic issues looming ahead. Finally, Pompeo will serve as an important pivot point between Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and National Security Advisor John Bolton, who will continually push for the use of hard power. I spoke with Hugh Hewitt on his radio show about this, and you can watch my conversation with the team at MSNBC’s Morning Joe on the same topic below:

Beyond a new Secretary of State, diplomacy will also require the Senate to accelerate the nomination process of key, open ambassadorial positions. We won’t be able to negotiate with North Korea without a competent ambassador in the South. Diplomacy, like many things, is a team sport.

As always, thanks for reading.

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