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Hill, Lee at Odds Over N. Korean Tour

Posted October. 19, 2006 03:04,   


Since U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher R. Hill was appointed as the U.S. ambassador in Seoul in August 2004, he has built close friendship with South Korea’s Minister of Unification Lee Jong-seok for more than two years. However, the two recently seem to clash over the issue of Mt. Geumgang tourism project.

The clash stemmed from the difference in the views over Mt. Geumgang tourism project, which the incumbent government considers the precious son of sunshine policy. Mr. Hill, who visited South Korea on October 17, expressed a negative view on the project, saying, “The project seems to have designed to give money to the North Korean regime.”

In response to this, Minister Lee, who claimed to be the protector of engagement policy toward North Korea even after the North’s nuclear test, expressed his difference with Assistant Secretary Hill’s perception of the project. During the meeting with Mr. Hill, which was held at the central government complex in Seoul on the morning of October 18, Lee reportedly refuted, “The Mt. Geumgang project is normal commercial trade and has nothing to do with the UN Security Council’s resolution to impose sanctions against North Korea.”

During the one-hour meeting, which lasted longer than the original schedule of 45 minutes, Minister Lee is reported to have explained the characteristics, significance and situation of the tourism project in detail. Minister Lee has been closely involved in the readjustment process of Korea-U.S. alliance in the capacity of the Deputy Head of the National Security Council (NSC) from the early days of the current administration. He had maintained friendly relationship with Assistant Secretary Hill, who had worked hard as the U.S. ambassador in Seoul to resolve anti-American sentiment in South Korea. The two are known to have been close enough to have wine together occasionally in Ambassador Hill’s official residence.