In a tweet, U.S. President Trump announced that he was firing Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and nominating CIA Director Mike Pompeo instead.
There were conflicting reports over whether Tillerson was told during his trip to Africa or whether he discovered his fate from that message on Twitter.
Either way, he confirmed his departure in front of the press later.
(ENGLISH)- Reuters Edit No. 2209
"My commission as secretary of state will terminate at midnight, March the 31st. I'll now return to private life as a private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I've had to serve my country."
The sudden nature of his departure was unexpected, but not surprising.
The relationship between Tillerson and Trump had been on the rocks for several months, and some were surprised he had lasted this long.
However, there are concerns over the disarray and uncertainty that this change brings, especially with critical foreign policy issues up in the air, most urgently the landmark U.S.-North Korea talks slated for May.
"Until Pompeo is confirmed by the senate, he is not the Secretary of State. The question here is, will Mike Pompeo be appointed before May, and if so, does he have preferences about who should be leading the arrangements for the talks. Then, how much time will the new team have to make these arrangements with North Korea."
For Seoul, the immediate issue was whether Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha would visit Washington as scheduled on Thursday, as she had planned to meet Tillerson.
The foreign ministry confirmed that the visit would go ahead, saying that she would meet with the deputy secretary, John Sullivan, citing the need for continued communication between the two administrations at this important time.
Planning both the inter-Korean talks and the U.S.-North Korea talks will likely require close cooperation between the Seoul and Washington to make sure they are on the same page on what to get from Pyongyang.
"The problem is the process, the process of denuclearization. What will be the process that the U.S. would accept with Pompeo as the new Secretary of State. The South Korean government has proposed a two-step process; freeze and denuclearization. I don't think the U.S. would be satisfied with the first step for freeze."
Pressure will be on Kang to swiftly establish a productive relationship with her new Washington counterpart over the next two months.
Kwon Jang-ho, Arirang News.