Mystery Shrouds Delay of New U.S. Ambassador's Confirmation

      August 11, 2011 13:28

      Sung Kim

      The official confirmation for the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea designate, Sung Kim, is unexpectedly being delayed although it seemed a mere formality. Apparently some senators are stalling because they worry about the direction of the Obama administration's North Korea policy, but who they are is not known.

      Kim's nomination was supposed to be wrapped up before Congress adjourned for the summer early this month so he could be posted at the end of the month. A senate confirmation hearing late last month also went smoothly and took no more than half an hour. But in its last meeting before the adjournment, the Senate only confirmed the nomination of David Shear as ambassador to Vietnam, but not Kim.

      Diplomatic sources in Washington on Tuesday said at least one Republican senator wanted the confirmation held up, but it is unclear who that was. Foreign Policy magazine cited Senate aides as saying the delay is related to concerns over the Obama administration's attempts to resume contact with North Korea and consider food aid to the North, which they feel the regime would then stockpile for celebrations of the late regime founder Kim Il-sung's 100th birthday next year.

      The Senate has the authority to confirm senior officials, but the confirmation process grinds to a halt if even just one out of 100 senators raises questions about the nominee or other issues. Senators typically have political reasons to do this and are generally open about it. But the identity of the senator who wanted Kim's confirmation held up remains a mystery.

      One source said, "The Korean Embassy in Washington is asking around trying to find out the cause of the delay, but even the State Department apparently said it doesn't know." The prevailing theory is that Republicans who take a harline view of North Korea are holding up the process to ensure that the Obama administration does not repeat the mistakes of former president George W. Bush, who drastically softened his stance toward the North during his later years in office but achieved nothing.

      There is talk that those behind the hold-up want a written pledge from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that there will be no further contact with Pyongyang and food aid for North Korea. But the prevailing view is that the confirmation will eventually go ahead since no one objects to Sung Kim personally.

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