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Kavanaugh Hearings Showcase Power, Perils of Women’s Rage

The contrast was stark.

Christine Blasey Ford was calm and careful as she testified to U.S. senators last week that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her as a teenager. Then Kavanaugh sat at the same table and angrily denied the allegations. He talked back to his questioners; he called the process “a national disgrace.”

Kavanaugh’s behavior triggered a new line of debate in his bid to be confirmed to the nation’s highest court — whether he is temperamentally suited for the job. As senators prepare to take their final vote on his lifetime appointment, his fury that day — and how women’s and men’s anger are perceived differently in politics and beyond — has been front and center in the national conversation.

“Powerful white men in this country have often been able to use anger to emphasize the seriousness of the points they want to make,” said Rebecca Traister, a political writer whose book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, came out this week.

“Women are told if they want to be taken seriously, believed, respected, they must not speak out of anger or use angry tones,’’ she said. “If they do, they’ll sound irrational, unserious, emotional, and not trusted or respected in a public or political sphere.”

Kavanaugh was able to choose anger as a tool in his own defense, “but that tool wasn’t even on the table for Christine Blasey Ford,” Traister said in an interview at VOA in Washington.

Collective anger

At the same time, she said, women’s collective anger has often been the catalyst for real social change. Her book details how U.S. movements from abolition and suffrage to civil rights, gay rights and women’s rights in the 1970s revved up when women came together in anger about perceived injustices.

“If you look at the history, though we’ve never really been told their stories, there are furious women at the beginning of all those movements,” she said.

That may be happening now as well. Women protesters flooded Senate office buildings and marched to the Supreme Court this week, calling on senators to vote against Kavanaugh. 

 

WATCH: Kavanaugh Confirmation Battle Opens Space for Women’s Anger

The he-said-she-said testimony, with little to gain for Ford, was just the latest in a series of events that have upset American women, especially those who support Democrats, since Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump almost two years ago. On the day after his inauguration, Jan. 21, 2017, millions took to the streets of Washington and cities across America and the world for the “Women’s March,” igniting political action that has led to record woman candidates in the midterm elections Nov. 6.

Anger is a motivating, propellant force for all kinds of political activism,” Traister said. “There is a vast and rich history of women coming together in frustration and resentment and anguish and fury around the world, and in working to change the structures that contain and subjugate them.”

​Individual anger

For one woman protester last week, activist and sexual assault survivor Ana Maria Archila, getting angry and letting it show changed the conversation. She was one of two women who challenged Republican Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, demanding that he take survivors’ testimonies into account in his decision on Kavanaugh.

In an interview, Archila said she was reacting to reports that Flake was going to give his unconditional support to Kavanaugh, and she decided to show how she really felt.

“I was reacting to how that felt in my body, what that meant for my children, and I think I was not going to try to censor myself, not going to try to be obedient and behave well,” she said. “I was really going to try to help him understand the message that he was sending to women across the country.”

After the interaction, which was caught live on CNN and widely viewed around the world, Flake and Democratic Senator Chris Coons delayed the confirmation process by asking Republican leaders for an FBI investigation of the Ford allegations.

That report was completed Wednesday, and senators had the chance to read it Thursday. Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine who was reported to be unsure about whether she would vote for Kavanaugh, confirmed Friday she didn’t find reason in the report not to support him.

For his part, Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell blasted the crowds of angry women turning out to oppose Kavanaugh.

“Can we be scared by all these people rampaging through the halls, accosting members at airports, coming to their homes? Trying to intimidate the Senate into defeating a good man. Are we going to allow this to happen? In this country?” he said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Even as Kavanaugh is likely to join the high court, Traister and Archila both say this most recent episode may help shift the power dynamic between men and women in Washington.

“We are usually not alone, and connecting and being curious about other women’s anger, perhaps at the same things, is one of the pathways forward,” Traister said.

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Kavanaugh Hearings Showcase Power, Perils of Women’s Rage

The contrast was stark.

Christine Blasey Ford was calm and careful as she testified to U.S. senators last week that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her as a teenager. Then Kavanaugh sat at the same table and angrily denied the allegations. He talked back to his questioners; he called the process “a national disgrace.”

Kavanaugh’s behavior triggered a new line of debate in his bid to be confirmed to the nation’s highest court — whether he is temperamentally suited for the job. As senators prepare to take their final vote on his lifetime appointment, his fury that day — and how women’s and men’s anger are perceived differently in politics and beyond — has been front and center in the national conversation.

“Powerful white men in this country have often been able to use anger to emphasize the seriousness of the points they want to make,” said Rebecca Traister, a political writer whose book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, came out this week.

“Women are told if they want to be taken seriously, believed, respected, they must not speak out of anger or use angry tones,’’ she said. “If they do, they’ll sound irrational, unserious, emotional, and not trusted or respected in a public or political sphere.”

Kavanaugh was able to choose anger as a tool in his own defense, “but that tool wasn’t even on the table for Christine Blasey Ford,” Traister said in an interview at VOA in Washington.

Collective anger

At the same time, she said, women’s collective anger has often been the catalyst for real social change. Her book details how U.S. movements from abolition and suffrage to civil rights, gay rights and women’s rights in the 1970s revved up when women came together in anger about perceived injustices.

“If you look at the history, though we’ve never really been told their stories, there are furious women at the beginning of all those movements,” she said.

That may be happening now as well. Women protesters flooded Senate office buildings and marched to the Supreme Court this week, calling on senators to vote against Kavanaugh. 

 

WATCH: Kavanaugh Confirmation Battle Opens Space for Women’s Anger

The he-said-she-said testimony, with little to gain for Ford, was just the latest in a series of events that have upset American women, especially those who support Democrats, since Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump almost two years ago. On the day after his inauguration, Jan. 21, 2017, millions took to the streets of Washington and cities across America and the world for the “Women’s March,” igniting political action that has led to record woman candidates in the midterm elections Nov. 6.

Anger is a motivating, propellant force for all kinds of political activism,” Traister said. “There is a vast and rich history of women coming together in frustration and resentment and anguish and fury around the world, and in working to change the structures that contain and subjugate them.”

​Individual anger

For one woman protester last week, activist and sexual assault survivor Ana Maria Archila, getting angry and letting it show changed the conversation. She was one of two women who challenged Republican Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, demanding that he take survivors’ testimonies into account in his decision on Kavanaugh.

In an interview, Archila said she was reacting to reports that Flake was going to give his unconditional support to Kavanaugh, and she decided to show how she really felt.

“I was reacting to how that felt in my body, what that meant for my children, and I think I was not going to try to censor myself, not going to try to be obedient and behave well,” she said. “I was really going to try to help him understand the message that he was sending to women across the country.”

After the interaction, which was caught live on CNN and widely viewed around the world, Flake and Democratic Senator Chris Coons delayed the confirmation process by asking Republican leaders for an FBI investigation of the Ford allegations.

That report was completed Wednesday, and senators had the chance to read it Thursday. Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine who was reported to be unsure about whether she would vote for Kavanaugh, confirmed Friday she didn’t find reason in the report not to support him.

For his part, Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell blasted the crowds of angry women turning out to oppose Kavanaugh.

“Can we be scared by all these people rampaging through the halls, accosting members at airports, coming to their homes? Trying to intimidate the Senate into defeating a good man. Are we going to allow this to happen? In this country?” he said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Even as Kavanaugh is likely to join the high court, Traister and Archila both say this most recent episode may help shift the power dynamic between men and women in Washington.

“We are usually not alone, and connecting and being curious about other women’s anger, perhaps at the same things, is one of the pathways forward,” Traister said.

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‘Don’t Screw Us Over,’ Ohio Workers Warn Candidates

Brandy Corwin likes that she can now wear makeup and nice clothes to work. That is because she is no longer working on the assembly line at the General Motors plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“I was laid off multiple times, and having a family, you can’t rely on that,” she said.

For the past five months, Corwin, 28, has been working at Credit Adjustments, Inc. (CAI), a debt collection agency headquartered in her hometown of Defiance, Ohio, an hour outside the city of Toledo.

Corwin was a third-generation manufacturing worker and thought the assembly line was her fate. But now, she no longer has to work overtime and weekends to make ends meet. “I finally have a good work-to-home life balance,” she said, “and I didn’t have that before.”

Her two children “love seeing me come home dressed up,” Corwin said. “My son, he compliments me all the time: Wow, Mommy, your hair looks really nice,’ or ‘Wow, Mom, I love your dress,’ because I’m not walking home in dirty jeans and steel-toe boots.”

CAI opened its first area call center in downtown Toledo last January, providing 60 new job opportunities, with the goal of adding 150 more over the next year and 500 in the area over a three-year span.

“There’s been intentional investments in Toledo,” said Hayley Studer, CAI Chief Mission Officer, adding that much of the company’s regional workforce comes from health care, call centers, and customer service-based jobs.

As a result of the new investment, downtown Toledo is undergoing a “renaissance,” says Wendy Gramza, President and CEO of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, although the unemployment rate at 5.3 percent exceeds the national rate of 3.9 percent.

​Brighter days for manufacturing

Ohio lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the Great Recession that began in 2008 and its wake.

But employment numbers have improved considerably in the past three years.

Ohio has the third-largest statewide manufacturing workforce in the country, and the region’s advanced manufacturing industry has generated more than 4,900 jobs since 2015, along with $2.2 billion in capital investment, according to Regional Growth Partnership, an economic development group serving Toledo and northwest Ohio.

“We all believe that President [Donald] Trump has led the charge for this,” said Tim Copsey, director of new business inquiries at Paragon Tempered Glass, in Antwerp, Ohio. “We’re getting back onto a level playing field.”

“There was an optimism on January 1 of 2017, [shortly after Trump’s election victory],” said Larry Manz, director of sales and marketing at InSource Technologies, a Paulding-based contract manufacturing and engineering company. “People started buying capital equipment. They started investing. They started consuming goods, and all these things came together.”

Blue-collar workers in Ohio’s northwest manufacturing stronghold along Lake Erie helped propel Trump to presidential victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016 with 52.1 percent of the state’s vote.

Voters will be watching “who is for and who is against” Trump’s policies in the upcoming November election, Copsey says.

One such voter, Jason, is back at work after being laid off from his job as a maintenance worker in the aftermath of the recession.

“I was looking for a job every damn day,” Jason recalled. He asked VOA not to reveal his last name out of privacy concerns.

For several months in 2011, the 37-year-old performed a delicate balancing act, cutting everyday expenses — on the brink of having his water, gas and electric shut off — while searching for a decent-paying job to provide for his wife and children.

Now, the father of three is an automotive parts maintenance worker at Okamoto Sandusky Manufacturing in Sandusky, Ohio, working roughly 60 hours a week.

Jason credits both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump for having a “part to play” in reversing the industry’s misfortunes. He believes manufacturing success stemmed from economic growth that started in the Obama administration, and has under Trump benefited from a fortified global economy, an increase in domestic demand and tax incentives for businesses.

With no particular political affiliation, he voted for Trump in 2016. His mind is not entirely made up on this November’s midterm elections, but: “I haven’t heard anything from the Democratic side that would really sway my vote at this point.”

He does have strong feelings about politicians: “We don’t care who it is, just don’t screw us over,” he said. “Don’t lie to us. Don’t screw us over.”

Less certain future

Across the region, manufacturing officials who spoke with VOA said while they increased hiring in 2017, it has since leveled off. Among their concerns: stiff competition for skilled labor, a housing and infrastructure shortage in rural areas, and rising health care costs.

Gramza notes that growth in regional manufacturing hasn’t translated to extensive new job creation in the sector. 

“A lot of our companies are innovating and automating,” Gramza told VOA. “While we’ve added new companies and new jobs, the number of people that are needed to work in the companies are keeping our overall count pretty stable.”

Democrat Jim Maldonado, an industrial electrician at a Chrysler manufacturing plant in Perrysburg, Ohio, is not optimistic about his industry’s future. His concern: tariffs on Chinese goods and a tax cut-induced rising deficit.

“Right now, [Trump’s trade war] is in its infancy,” Maldonado said. “Do I know if I’m going to lose my job? No, I don’t.”

A self-described “realist … not a dreamer,” Maldonado says electing candidates that “support working people” is his top priority this November, adding that no one in his plant likes being told who to vote for. Six years from retirement, his concern lies beyond 2018, even though he will pocket an additional $2,000 due to Republican tax cuts passed last December.

“Somebody is going to pay for that,” Maldonado said, concerned that entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare could eventually bear the brunt.

“[Trump] doesn’t need Social Security, and the people with him don’t need it, but who’s going to be dependent on that?” he asked emphatically. “I am — at some point!”

Changing workforce

Jerry Zielke, President of Northwest Ohio Regional Economic Development (NORED), describes one tactic for retaining a younger workforce: “Make awareness of what’s there, [and] try to get them engaged.”

“Getting beyond the idea that working a factory job is dirty and not very profitable and looked down upon, the factories — many of the ones I go into — are very clean, and it’s high tech, and they’re well lit, and they try to create family environments,” added Tami Norris, training coordinator at Northwest State Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center.

Toledo-native Marcus Odoms, 40 years old and a recent graduate of Northwest State’s Industrial Automation Maintenance certificate program, left the production side of manufacturing in part to relieve stress on his body, while gaining “hands on” experience with machinery.

When he began the program 12 months ago, Odoms said the starting wage was $18 to $21 per hour for industrial maintenance technicians. Now, he says, it’s up to $24.

Recently wedded with a newborn son and a certificate in hand, he says the decision will pay off. “We make a better case for raising my family in northwest Ohio,” Odoms said.

And the election?

Trump is planning to visit Ohio on October 12 to generate support for vulnerable congressional candidates. Only a few of Ohio’s congressional seats appear to be in play in this November’s election, and none are in the northwestern part of the state.

While congressional races in Ohio’s northwest seem to be reliably red, Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, appears comfortably headed for re-election. And Ohio’s race to replace Republican Governor John Kasich is pretty much tied, having just become the most expensive in the state’s history.

It will take “a mixture of the right Democrats with the right Republicans” to keep positive momentum going, says Copsey of Paragon Tempered Glass.

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Kavanaugh Confirmation Battle Opens Space for Women’s Anger

Allegations of sexual assault against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have mobilized women across the country to share their own stories of sexual assault and hold elected officials accountable. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson speaks with Ana Maria Archila, the sexual assault survivor whose personal challenge to Senator Jeff Flake last week may be a turning point in the #MeToo movement.

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Kavanaugh Confirmation Battle Opens Space for Women’s Anger

Allegations of sexual assault against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have mobilized women across the country to share their own stories of sexual assault and hold elected officials accountable. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson speaks with Ana Maria Archila, the sexual assault survivor whose personal challenge to Senator Jeff Flake last week may be a turning point in the #MeToo movement.

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Court Rules for California Over US in Sanctuary City Case

A U.S. judge Friday blocked the Trump administration from placing conditions on public safety grants to further its crackdown on illegal immigration, and he ordered the grant money to be released to California “sanctuary cities.”

However, while Judge William Orrick in San Francisco found that the conditions placed last year on public safety grants by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions were unconstitutional, he stayed a nationwide injunction pending appeal.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

The grant conditions required recipients to provide Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents access to jails and prisons, provide notice when detainees were being released and certify that information was being shared with federal authorities.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the administration in August 2017. The state argued that putting the conditions on the $28 million in federal funds it expected would undermine law enforcement and deter police cooperation by immigrants, a major population in the state.

Scores of jurisdictions around the United States have adopted some form of “sanctuary city” policies, which generally prohibit cooperation with immigration officials. U.S. President Donald Trump had made a removing illegal immigrants a key campaign pledge, and he often criticizes the sanctuary cities.

Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have successfully sued the Trump administration over the conditions on the public safety funds, known as a Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, and those cases are pending appeal.

The use of nationwide injunctions by U.S. district courts has been a major roadblock to numerous Trump policies, and the appeals in the sanctuary city cases may provide an avenue for the administration to curtail their use by lower courts. 

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Court Rules for California Over US in Sanctuary City Case

A U.S. judge Friday blocked the Trump administration from placing conditions on public safety grants to further its crackdown on illegal immigration, and he ordered the grant money to be released to California “sanctuary cities.”

However, while Judge William Orrick in San Francisco found that the conditions placed last year on public safety grants by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions were unconstitutional, he stayed a nationwide injunction pending appeal.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

The grant conditions required recipients to provide Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents access to jails and prisons, provide notice when detainees were being released and certify that information was being shared with federal authorities.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the administration in August 2017. The state argued that putting the conditions on the $28 million in federal funds it expected would undermine law enforcement and deter police cooperation by immigrants, a major population in the state.

Scores of jurisdictions around the United States have adopted some form of “sanctuary city” policies, which generally prohibit cooperation with immigration officials. U.S. President Donald Trump had made a removing illegal immigrants a key campaign pledge, and he often criticizes the sanctuary cities.

Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have successfully sued the Trump administration over the conditions on the public safety funds, known as a Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, and those cases are pending appeal.

The use of nationwide injunctions by U.S. district courts has been a major roadblock to numerous Trump policies, and the appeals in the sanctuary city cases may provide an avenue for the administration to curtail their use by lower courts. 

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Pompeo Faces Challenges in Second Trump-Kim Summit

Heading to Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that he hoped to develop options for the timing and location of the next summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.

The top U.S. diplomat will meet with Kim during his North Korean visit, which will be his fourth.

“There are complex scheduling, logistics issues,” Pompeo said en route to Japan, his first stop. He added he was hopeful that a general date and location for the summit might be reached in his meeting with Kim.

When asked whether he was taking any message or gift to Kim on Trump’s behalf, Pompeo told the traveling press: “I am not bringing anything that we are prepared at this point to talk about publicly.”

Earlier in the week, Pompeo said he hoped his North Korean visit would produce “better understandings, deeper progress, and a plan forward not only for the summit between the two leaders but for us to continue the efforts to build out a pathway for denuclearization.”

But analysts said Pompeo faces challenges to ensure a second summit produces real progress toward denuclearization.

“I think they cannot come out of these trips anymore with broad statements of principles. There needs to be some actual, tangible movement on the nuclear issue,” said Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a research group in Washington.

Core issues

North Korea has not addressed core issues, including providing a list of nuclear weapons and facilities, giving a way to verify that information, and presenting a timeline for disposing of these things, added Cha during a phone briefing on Friday.

North Korea has been seeking a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, but the United States has said Pyongyang must give up its nuclear weapons first. North Korea has not satisfied Washington’s demands for a complete inventory of its nuclear weapons.

At a briefing on Wednesday, Pompeo would not give details of the ongoing negotiations, including the possibility of an end-of-war declaration.

While there is value to engagement at the highest levels, the downside is that this publicly raises the stakes for each meeting, according to former U.S. officials and experts.

“Real progress can only come from a sustained diplomatic process at lower levels, grounded in realistic expectations about what both sides can achieve,” former State Department official Mintaro Oba told VOA.

“We don’t have a diplomatic process in place,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign policy research group with offices in Washington and other cities. “I would really like to see him go in there and lay out the vision for how do we get to a peace regime, step by step.”

While Washington is resisting calls from Russia and China to relax tough international sanctions against North Korea, some former U.S. officials say the “maximum pressure” campaign is diminished by Trump’s sometimes undiplomatic rhetoric.

“There’s an 800-pound elephant in the room, and that is our own president,” said Susan Thornton, who recently retired as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

“His actions have helped put the nail in the coffin of maximum pressure. For example, when he says North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, that undercuts our diplomats,” Thornton added Friday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Pompeo will travel to Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China on Saturday through Monday. In Tokyo, he will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Kono. In Seoul, Pompeo will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. In Beijing, he will meet with his counterparts and most likely will speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Pompeo’s trip to Beijing comes in the wake of a speech Thursday by Vice President Mike Pence in which he stepped up criticism of and laid out a more competitive strategy against China. Pence spoke at the Hudson Institute, a conservative research group in Washington.

‘A renewed cold war’

Observers said Washington’s new approach to Beijing was characterized by competition and confrontation.

“There is the beginning of some talk that we are really moving toward a renewed cold war, this time between the U.S. and China,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at CSIS.

While China wants stability in the Korean Peninsula and does not want a U.S. presence, Beijing is using the North Korea issue to strengthen its relations with Washington, added Glaser.

“My own guess is that the U.S.-China relationship will pretty much be on hold until after the midterm elections. The Chinese have some hope that some of what is going on is being motivated by political concerns and that there might be more of a chance for some reasonable, constructive dialogue with the United States after the midterms,” said Glaser.

Senior officials traveling with Pompeo include Stephen Biegun, special representative for North Korea; Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia; and  Allison Hooker, the White House National Security Council’s lead Korea official.

This will be Biegun’s first trip to Pyongyang as U.S. envoy. It was widely expected that Biegun’s North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, would return to Pyongyang from Beijing for talks.

Pompeo received his invitation to return to Pyongyang during his meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on the sidelines of U.N. General Assembly session.

VOA’s Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

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Pompeo Faces Challenges in Second Trump-Kim Summit

Heading to Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that he hoped to develop options for the timing and location of the next summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.

The top U.S. diplomat will meet with Kim during his North Korean visit, which will be his fourth.

“There are complex scheduling, logistics issues,” Pompeo said en route to Japan, his first stop. He added he was hopeful that a general date and location for the summit might be reached in his meeting with Kim.

When asked whether he was taking any message or gift to Kim on Trump’s behalf, Pompeo told the traveling press: “I am not bringing anything that we are prepared at this point to talk about publicly.”

Earlier in the week, Pompeo said he hoped his North Korean visit would produce “better understandings, deeper progress, and a plan forward not only for the summit between the two leaders but for us to continue the efforts to build out a pathway for denuclearization.”

But analysts said Pompeo faces challenges to ensure a second summit produces real progress toward denuclearization.

“I think they cannot come out of these trips anymore with broad statements of principles. There needs to be some actual, tangible movement on the nuclear issue,” said Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a research group in Washington.

Core issues

North Korea has not addressed core issues, including providing a list of nuclear weapons and facilities, giving a way to verify that information, and presenting a timeline for disposing of these things, added Cha during a phone briefing on Friday.

North Korea has been seeking a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, but the United States has said Pyongyang must give up its nuclear weapons first. North Korea has not satisfied Washington’s demands for a complete inventory of its nuclear weapons.

At a briefing on Wednesday, Pompeo would not give details of the ongoing negotiations, including the possibility of an end-of-war declaration.

While there is value to engagement at the highest levels, the downside is that this publicly raises the stakes for each meeting, according to former U.S. officials and experts.

“Real progress can only come from a sustained diplomatic process at lower levels, grounded in realistic expectations about what both sides can achieve,” former State Department official Mintaro Oba told VOA.

“We don’t have a diplomatic process in place,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign policy research group with offices in Washington and other cities. “I would really like to see him go in there and lay out the vision for how do we get to a peace regime, step by step.”

While Washington is resisting calls from Russia and China to relax tough international sanctions against North Korea, some former U.S. officials say the “maximum pressure” campaign is diminished by Trump’s sometimes undiplomatic rhetoric.

“There’s an 800-pound elephant in the room, and that is our own president,” said Susan Thornton, who recently retired as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

“His actions have helped put the nail in the coffin of maximum pressure. For example, when he says North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, that undercuts our diplomats,” Thornton added Friday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Pompeo will travel to Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China on Saturday through Monday. In Tokyo, he will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Kono. In Seoul, Pompeo will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. In Beijing, he will meet with his counterparts and most likely will speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Pompeo’s trip to Beijing comes in the wake of a speech Thursday by Vice President Mike Pence in which he stepped up criticism of and laid out a more competitive strategy against China. Pence spoke at the Hudson Institute, a conservative research group in Washington.

‘A renewed cold war’

Observers said Washington’s new approach to Beijing was characterized by competition and confrontation.

“There is the beginning of some talk that we are really moving toward a renewed cold war, this time between the U.S. and China,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at CSIS.

While China wants stability in the Korean Peninsula and does not want a U.S. presence, Beijing is using the North Korea issue to strengthen its relations with Washington, added Glaser.

“My own guess is that the U.S.-China relationship will pretty much be on hold until after the midterm elections. The Chinese have some hope that some of what is going on is being motivated by political concerns and that there might be more of a chance for some reasonable, constructive dialogue with the United States after the midterms,” said Glaser.

Senior officials traveling with Pompeo include Stephen Biegun, special representative for North Korea; Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia; and  Allison Hooker, the White House National Security Council’s lead Korea official.

This will be Biegun’s first trip to Pyongyang as U.S. envoy. It was widely expected that Biegun’s North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, would return to Pyongyang from Beijing for talks.

Pompeo received his invitation to return to Pyongyang during his meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on the sidelines of U.N. General Assembly session.

VOA’s Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

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