South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is set to address a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday, one day before the Senate and the House are set to approve a South Korean trade pact that has been a key priority for both countries.
Lest that have you thinking that everything’s rosy in the Capitol ahead of Lee’s visit, however, Politico’s Ben Smith has a reminder that if there’s a stalemate to be had, the Senate will find a way.
The Administration’s nominee to be ambassador [to South Korea], Sung Kim, was announced this summer — but Sen. John Kyl (R- Ariz.) has reportedly placed a hold on Kim’s confirmation. Two sources said Kyl’s objections are to U.S. Korea policy, not to Kim, who was U.S. envoy to talks involving both Koreas.
Former U.S. foreign officials say the hold-up to what had been expected to be an easy confirmation for Kim aren’t helping the relationship with a major trading partner, and one on the verge of finalizing a free trade pact with the United States.
As Smith notes, the post is expected to remain filled throughout Lee’s visit by the current U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Kathleen Stephens — whose own confirmation, incidentally, was held up in 2008 over concerns by then-Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) about U.S. Korea policy.
Still, the current impasse over Kim — who has served since July 2008 as special envoy to the six-party nuclear talks on North Korea — puts something of a damper on what otherwise looks to be a celebratory visit by Lee to Capitol Hill on the heels of congressional approval of the long-stalled U.S.-Korea trade deal.
The Korean press has reported that Kyl has been blocking Kim’s full Senate confirmation vote since the summer over concerns about the Obama administration’s Korea policy. Kyl’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.