February 01, 2018 12:21
The government declined to comment on Wednesday on reports that the White House at the last minute dumped Victor Cha as the next ambassador to Korea.
"We have nothing to confirm," a government spokesman said. "This is a matter for the U.S. government to explain."
But privately officials here were visibly rattled by the prospect of the post remaining vacant at a time when close discussions are necessary between Seoul and Washington about the North Korean nuclear threat.
A Foreign Ministry source said, "We were worried when a month passed after we granted agrément, and now our concerns have become a reality."
Former U.S. ambassador Mark Lippert stepped down on Jan. 20 last year after the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Since then the embassy has been headed by the charge d'affaires, Mark Knapper. It is unprecedented for the position here to be left empty for so long -- the previous record was nine months back in 1955.
Several more months are likely to pass until U.S. President Donald Trump finds a new nominee who is then put through a Senate confirmation hearing.
The U.S. ambassadors to China and Japan were already appointed in June and August last year.
Government officials here were surprised that Cha was rejected for voicing opposition to Trump's "bloody nose" plan of a limited, preemptive strike against North Korea.
One diplomatic source said, "Cha's rejection is a symbolic event showing the possibility of an increasing rift between the White House and the Moon Jae-in administration, which seeks to resolve the nuclear impasse through dialogue with Pyongyang."
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