Why ’hold’ on new US envoy?
U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens'posting in Seoul ended in August and she had her farewell party in September but, without a specific date to expect a new envoy, she must continue her duties as ambassador.
Ambassador-designate Kim Sung was nominated in June, was vetted by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July and could have been confirmed by the full Senate in August. Yet his confirmation has not even been calendared for action in the U.S. Senate.
Sung Kim is the first Korean-American ever nominated as ambassador to Korea and a widely recognized Korea expert. He was a top diplomat and America’s representative at the Six Party Talks from 2008 to 2009.
When asked what is the holdup, Aaron Tarver, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul could only say: “Kim’s nomination has yet to be presented to the full Senate for consideration.”
“We all hope Ambassador-Designate Kim will receive his due consideration by the U.S. Senate promptly,” Tarver then added in a carefully worded statement when asked further about the delay.
In a procedural move unique to the rules of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona prevented a vote on Kim’s confirmation by the full Senate. According to the rule of that legislative body, any senator can stop the confirmation process from proceeding and without giving a reason.
Kyl has not publically stated why he placed a hold on a confirmation vote for Kim, but the senator has been highly vocal in criticizing U.S. President Barack Obama’s renewal of America’s START II Treaty with Russia, which was passed during a lame duck session of Congress amid a flurry of political wrangling after mid-term elections in the U.S. in November 2010.
Kyl has been outspoken in questioning Obama’s perceived willingness to negotiate with North Korea.
The Korea-US relationship is among the most important of America’s strategic alliances and Seoul has indicated its support of the Kim nomination.
The hold on Kim’s confirmation comes at a time of intermittent improvements in relations with North Korea. Seoul has initiated talks with Pyongyang on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali in July indicating the South’s desire to re-engage with the North Korea.
President Lee recently endorsed providing North Korea with relief supplies to help in recovery from a devastating floods there. Further, Washington supports Seoul’s move.
It therefore appears that Washington and Seoul are in lock-step on re-starting six-party denuclearization talks with Pyongyang. Delaying the dispatch of a U.S. envoy to Korea could further unravel already frayed relations with North Korea.
The “hold” on confirming Kim comes at an awkward time in Korea-U.S. bilateral relations for another reason. The two countries are planning a state visit by President Lee to Washington in mid-October.
There are major projects and commitments the old stalwart allies have to hammer out. One, the Korea-US free trade agreement, which has critics on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, has yet to be passed by the legislatures of the two countries.
Also, the countries are in the midst of delicate negotiations on renewing the civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement due to expire in 2014. Korea wants to be permitted under the treaty to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, controversial move for some in the United States.
The U.S. embassy here said the visit is expected to highlight the strong alliance, the global partnership, and deep economic ties between the United States and Korea.
“The visit will also celebrate the strong bonds of friendship between the American and Korean people,” Tarver said.