Top US envoy for East Asia to retire this month

Top US envoy for East Asia to retire this month
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A top U.S. diplomat for Asia is set to retire in the coming weeks as the Trump administration handles major negotiations with North Korea and China.

The State Department said Saturday that Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, will retire at the end of July.

“We are grateful for her service of over two and a half decades to the Department of State, including numerous challenging assignments around the world,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement reported by Reuters.

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Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUN condemns Iran military parade attack President strikes softer tone on North Korea at United Nations Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump returns to UN praising Kim | Iran in crosshairs later this week | US warns Russia on missile defense in Syria MORE "is moving forward with efforts to nominate candidates for leadership roles across the department, including for this key position," Nauert added, though she did not say when he may announce a replacement.

Thornton was formally nominated for the senior position in December under then-Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Pompeo working to rebuild ties with US diplomats: report NYT says it was unfair on Haley curtain story MORE. She joined the State Department in 1991 and has been serving as acting assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs since March 2017, following the departure of the previous permanent assistant secretary.

Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon had opposed Thornton in the position and pushed to install someone who was more hawkish on East Asia policy.

The State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs handles a diverse portfolio, tackling U.S. foreign policy for countries like China, Japan and Australia as well as the Korean Peninsula, making it a key diplomatic post for dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat.

Her departure comes as the U.S. pushes to negotiate over North Korea's nuclear program amid new concerns that Pyongyang has shown little interest in giving up its nuclear arsenal despite a meeting between President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month.

Her retirement announcement also came as the State Department acknowledged that the U.S. ambassador to Estonia had decided to step down at the end of July.

In a private Facebook post reported by Foreign Policy magazine, James Melville said he was ultimately pushed to resign over Trump's comments accusing the European Union (EU) of being set up to take advantage of the U.S.

“For the President to say the EU was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go,” he wrote in the post, according to Foreign Policy.