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State Department Loses Korea Experts

Posted April. 14, 2006 03:16,   


Two Korea experts who served as directors of the Korean Office at the U.S. Department of State since the inception of the George W. Bush administration are expected to be replaced: James Foster, the incumbent Korean Office director; and David Straub, the Japanese Office director and former director of the Korean Office.

One well-informed DOS source said on April 12, “The time has come for Director Foster, who took office in 2004, to hand over the post to a successor.” It does not seem to have been decided, however, whether he will be appointed to another job or leave the State Department. Diplomatic circles in Washington believe he is highly likely to resign.

Poster might be recorded as the first diplomat to open his home to Korean correspondents. Since February 2005, he has invited Korean correspondents in Washington to dinner in small groups. Three or four diplomats at the DOS Korean Office also attended the dinner meetings. The meetings were for putting into practice “public diplomacy,” which has particularly been emphasized by the Bush administration. At the same time, however, they were mainly for listening to Korean journalists, who were asked to “let [the diplomats] know if there is something overlooked by the U.S. government.”

As his wife was working abroad, Poster was in charge of all preparations for the dinners. In a series of dinner meetings that continued to be held later, he displayed his excellent singing skills, using a karaoke machine with Korean pop songs included in it.

A PhD in politics, he began his relationship with Korea in the 1980s when he worked as instructor at Korea University and served at the U.S. Embassy in Korea.

His predecessor, Straub, wraps up his career as diplomat at the end of this month. One source hinted, “He will be staying in the DOS training center by the end of April to take courses for helping a ‘return to society.’”

In the State Department, he is one of “sons-in-law of Korea” who have Korean wives. He served as deputy director of the Korean Office and as political councilor of the U.S. Embassy in Korea; since the inauguration of the Bush administration up until 2004, he commanded the Korean Office as director. Reportedly, he plans to take some time to rest and establish a consulting firm to give advice on the Korea-US relations.

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com