Tillerson firing complicates State Department's Trump-Kim summit planning

Mike Pompeo likely won't have a confirmation vote for several weeks.

When the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers come to Washington Friday for all-important talks on the planned summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the top State Department official meeting with them won't be Mike Pompeo, the president's nominee to be secretary of state, or even the outgoing secretary, Rex Tillerson.

That duty falls to Tillerson's number two, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. He's been given Tillerson's authorities and responsibilities and will become acting secretary on April 1.

Until there's a confirmation hearing for Pompeo, which won't happen until April, and a Senate confirmation vote, Pompeo won't be able to take the lead on North Korea and other pressing diplomatic issues.

In addition to Sullivan, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also met with Trump's daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump on Thursday, as well as top Republicans in Congress.

North Korea has not yet responded to Trump's acceptance of Kim's offer to meet, or confirmed the promises South Korea says Kim made, but State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday the administration isn't concerned.

"That is the agreement that Kim Jong Un provided to the Republic of Korea. That information was presented to us, and so we are going forward in full faith and understanding that a meeting will go forward," she said.

The department's East Asia bureau is preparing for that Trump-Kim summit, Nauert said. "We are operating in good faith and planning to go ahead with that."

The White House is spearheading the meeting, but State is supporting by providing staffers, guidance, translation, and more.

Nauert insisted those efforts have not been hampered by the loss of Amb. Joseph Yun, the special representative for North Korea policy, who retired last month and had years of experience and contact with North Korean officials.

"You all -- many of you -- ask me a million questions about Joe Yun like he's the second coming of Christ. For goodness sake, there are many capable people here," Nauert said, after touting the remaining colleagues who "are even more senior than Amb. Yun" and who "are not showboats, they are not people who run out in front of cameras and want to make it known to the world that this is what they do."

She later denied that that was a jab at Yun.

Tillerson is still technically secretary of state until midnight on March 31. Beyond the meetings with Japanese and South Korean leaders, Sullivan now takes on Tillerson’s role at White House meetings, signs off on papers and more.

In the meantime, Tillerson will proceed with the proper paperwork to prepare his departure and be on hand to help prepare his predecessor for the transition.

But given that Tillerson was fired, why is he hanging around?

"This is the arrangement that was worked out between the Secretary and the White House," Nauert said Thursday.

Nauert said Tillerson and Pompeo have plans to talk, although one source told ABC News that they did speak already on Tuesday. Pompeo's staff is also having meetings and conversations with Tillerson's about the transition, including briefing him and them.

There are still competing narratives of how Tillerson was fired, with the White House saying Tillerson was told Friday while the State Department said Tuesday that Tillerson did not know he was terminated until Trump's tweet.

Nauert hedged toward the White House version, saying only that chief of staff John Kelly called Tillerson on Friday, but that she wouldn't go beyond that.

Nauert also downplayed the loss as a disruption to State Department's functions or a break in policies.

"This building and what we do at the State Department is bigger than any one individual," Nauert said. "The work of the State Department goes on all across the world today. So just because our secretary, Secretary Tillerson, will no longer be the Secretary of State as of March 31st does not mean that we hit the pause button. It is the policy of this administration that we are advancing, and our people are hard at work."

To others in the building, that has not been true. One official told ABC News that their bureau is not even planning travel at the moment because they're not sure what happens next.

But Nauert pointed to a big meeting in Berlin, where senior State Department official Brian Hook is meeting with German, British, and French officials to negotiate a side agreement to the Iran nuclear deal to deal with Iran's ballistic missiles and "malign" activities -- despite Pompeo's opposition to the Obama-era agreement.

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