Oops! Mike Pompeo refers to North Korean leader Kim as 'Chairman Un'

John Bacon
A U.S. government handout photo released by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shows U.S. Central Intelligence (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea in a photo that Sanders said was taken over Easter weekend 2018.
U.S. Government | Reuters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in remarks to the press while en route to North Korea, uttered a diplomatic gaffe by referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as "Chairman Un."

Names in Korea, like some other Asian nations, begin with the family name followed by the given name, generally two words. Kim should be referred to as Chairman Kim; Chinese President Xi JinPing as President Xi.

"We've continued to develop both administratively and sort of begin to put some outlines around the substance of the agenda for the summit between the president and Chairman Un," Pompeo said.

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The quote was included in a transcript released by Pompeo's office.

In a tweet Tuesday, Pompeo played it safe: "I had productive meetings in Pyongyang with Chairman Kim Jong-un and made progress. I'm delighted to bring home three Americans."

Pompeo took office just two weeks ago, but the West Point grad is a former director of the CIA. This was his second trip to North Korea this year. He would appear to have plenty of expertise on North Korea affairs.

Struggles with Asian names, however, are nothing new for the Trump administration. A White House press release in July referred to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as that nation's president. And hours later, the office referred to Xi as the leader of "the Republic of China." That would be Taiwan, and China views it as a breakaway province. The White House apologized.

Blooper aside, Pompeo's trip is being viewed as wildly successful by President Trump, who announced on Twitter that three Americans being held by North Korea were returning with Pompeo. Trump also said progress had been made toward his summit with Kim.

"I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting," Trump tweeted. "They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set."

Secretary of State Pompeo heading back from North Korea with 3 released prisoners
Secretary of State Pompeo heading back from North Korea with 3 released prisoners