The nomination for the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea is being held up in the Senate due to reported Republican objections to the Obama administration's outreach to North Korea, Foreign Policy reported on Monday (see GSN, July 22).
Sung Kim, who most recently served as U.S. representative to the moribund six-nation talks aimed at North Korean denuclearization, was tagged by the Obama administration to take over in Seoul for Ambassador Kathleen Stephens. However, a hold on his nomination has been placed by at least one unidentified senator, according to three high-ranking Senate aides.
Said to be behind the move are Republican worries about recent U.S. moves to resume contact with the regime and White House consideration of delivering food assistance to North Korea. Pyongyang and Washington conducted talks last month to explore avenues for restarting six-nation talks on North Korean denuclearization (see related GSN story, today).
"As we have said from the beginning of these discussions, they are designed to explore the willingness of North Korea to take concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization," U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth said following the two-day session with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan and other diplomats from Pyongyang. "In that regard, these were constructive and businesslike discussions."
"The United States supports emergency humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea in accordance with international standards for monitoring," the State Department said last week. "Our humanitarian assistance is not linked to any political or security issues."
Some in Washington and South Korea argue North Korea's repeated pleas for aid are a ruse that would allow the Stalinist state to stockpile food ahead of long-planned 2012 celebrations for the 100-year anniversary of the birth of regime founder Kim Il Sung.
As the key food and nuclear issues are not anticipated to be put to rest in the near future, it is not apparent when the hold on Kim's nomination would be lifted. South Korea would like to see Kim installed at the Seoul embassy in short order.
Separately, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July approved the nomination of Thomas Countryman to become assistant secretary of State for international security and nonproliferation. However, his nomination has yet to come up for a full Senate floor vote, indicating that a minimum of one senator has placed a hold on the nomination.
The Senate is on recess until after Labor Day (Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, Aug. 8).