South Korea has not had much luck with its ambassadors to Washington lately. After only four months on the job, Ambassador Hong Seok Hyun is stepping down over a scandal, broken by a TV news show in Seoul, about the South Korean spy agency's secret recording of him allegedly agreeing to create slush funds for the 1997 presidential race.
South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun said Monday he would accept Hong's offer to resign, but Roh'soffice noted it might not happen for some time because of "pending issues" the ambassador needed to address, news services reported. Aides to Hong here said he would have no comment on announcements coming out of his capital.
Hong initially told reporters he could not remember the alleged conversation, but on Monday he expressed his regrets to Roh's chief of staff for causing concern over the issue.
Ties between Seoul and Washington, a close ally which has 32,500 troops stationed in South Korea, have been prickly in recent months as the South Koreans sought to lure North Korea's communist government back to the negotiating table, using both the inducement of aid and the threat of heightened security measures to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Hong, a prominent figure at home and longtime former publisher of his country's largest newspaper, the Joong-ang Ilbo, was dispatched to Washington last February after his predecessor, Han Sung Joo, left under a cloud after deciding to attend his wife's book party instead of a Pentagon reception for envoys from what President Bush called the "coalition of the willing" in Washington's war against Iraq.
Roh's spokesman, Kim Man Soo, expressed the president's regrets over losing his top diplomat at a delicate and sensitive time in U.S.-South Korean relations, especially on the day when talks aimed at prodding North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program had finally resumed in Beijing.
"I feel sorry because he has been doing a good job as ambassador to the United States at a crucial period," Kim quoted Roh as saying.
Last week MBC-TV reported that South Korean intelligence had taped a conversation between Hong, then publisher of the newspaper, and Lee Hak Soo, a high-ranking official at the Samsung Group. A court injunction against broadcasting the recording did not hinder the network from reporting the story about the alleged bankrolling of candidates.
Although the recordings were old and technically illegal, the news triggered intense pressure on Hong to resign. Samsung, Korea's largest conglomerate, apologized to the nation Monday for the confusion and anxiety it had caused.
This wasn't the first time Hong was snared in controversy. In 1999 he was arrested on tax evasion and embezzlement charges and fined $3.2 million.
What's Next for Bandar?
Now that it's official that the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is leaving Washington in the fall, the only question is: Where will he live? The prince could choose among his many mansions in England, Morocco, France or Saudi Arabia. In part, it will depend on whether he ends up with another top job, although his stated preference is for the quiet English countryside, where he has spent most of his time in recent months.
Embassy spokesmen spent the summer quashing rumors that the dean of the Washington diplomatic corps was calling it quits after 22 years, despite his enviable access to the Bush family. But word was already out among junior staff who had been to his residential compound in McLean.
According to a network of drivers who serve at Arab embassies, the diplomatic residence had been packed up for weeks with the family's belongings ready for shipment. Bandar's older sons Khaled and Faisal, two of eight children, had expressed a desire to wrap up their affairs in the United States and return home to be part of changes underway in the kingdom, according to family acquaintances.
In a July 20 letter to the spouses of Arab ambassadors, Bandar's wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal -- who is also a sister of the newly appointed envoy, Prince Turki al-Faisal -- said she was resigning as chairman of the board of the Mosaic Foundation, which she created to raise funds for U.S.-based charities with programs in the Arab world.
Bangladeshi Seeks Anti-Terror Aid
Lutfozzaman Babar, home secretary of Bangladesh, made the rounds here Monday, meeting senior officials at the attorney general's office and the National Security Council to solicit counterterrorism support.
In a brief telephone interview, Babar said he was asking for U.S. assistance in such areas as training, logistics and surveillance equipment for intelligence gathering. He has more meetings planned this week with officials at the State and Homeland Security departments, and with John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.
"We are working together to fight the war against terror and we want to further strengthen our cooperation," the minister said.
Correspondent Anthony Faiola in Tokyo contributed to this report.