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Trump leaves U.S. ambassadorship to Seoul for record 12 months

Trump leaves U.S. ambassadorship to Seoul for record 12 months

Posted February. 02, 2018 08:38,   

Updated February. 02, 2018 08:38


U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of Victor Cha, a senior adviser and Korea chair at the U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, from consideration for U.S. ambassador to South Korea leaves the position vacant for nearly 12 months, the longest since the establishment of the South Korean government in 1948.

South Korea has hosted a total of 22 U.S. ambassadors since John Joseph Muccio, who was appointed as the first one in April 1949. The previous record of the position’s vacancy was 10 months between James Laney’s departure in February 1997 and Stephen Warren Bosworth’s arrival in December 1997. Considering the process of nominating a new ambassador candidate, seeking Seoul’s agrément, and the Senate confirmation hearings, it is hard to estimate how much longer the ambassadorial post will remain vacant.

South Korea is not alone in having controversies over the lack of the U.S. envoy for an extended period of time. Australia, another U.S. ally, had controversies over a “diplomatic insult” due to the 17-month absence of U.S. ambassador. Fueling the controversy, Tim Fischer, former deputy prime minister and ambassador, complained, “This is now bordering on a diplomatic insult. We've been downgraded, despite all the nice noises. We are a low priority.”

CNN reported on Wednesday that dozens of U.S. ambassadorships to major U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, remain empty. “Of the vacant posts, around 30 are still awaiting a nominee, while seven others have nominees pending confirmation,” CNN reported. As of Wednesday, two of the U.S. State Department’s six undersecretary positions await nominees, while another two have nominees who have not yet been confirmed. Most of the State Department's 24 assistant secretary positions are vacant as well, or held by an acting official, according to CNN.

The State Department’s North Korean affairs operation has also been disrupted by vacancies in some key posts. Nominees for Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs are still awaiting Senate confirmations.

Sung-Ha Joo zsh75@donga.com