The new U.S. ambassador to South Korea tried to stay out of the country's bruising politics in his first public speech Tuesday but ended up being dragged into a bitter fight over U.S.-Korea trade.
Ambassador Sung Kim, the first Korean-American to head the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, insisted that he was "not going to get involved in politics here" when asked about new complaints from opposition lawmakers to the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
Then he launched into a vigorous defense of the treaty, which was approved by the U.S. Congress in October and by the South Korean legislature in November.
"We are going to remind everyone that this is an agreement that was carefully negotiated by the two governments," Mr. Kim said at the Asia Society Korea Center.
"In fact, it spanned two administrations in both countries, and it's an agreement that will bring great benefits to both countries."
The ambassador was referring to the circuitous path the treaty took toward ratification in Washington and Seoul.
Former President George W. Bush and former Korean President Roh Moo-hyun signed the treaty in 2007. However, President Obama and South Korea's current president, Lee Myung-bak , renegotiated the pact and signed a revised version in 2010.
Lately, members of Mr. Roh's party, now in the opposition and renamed the Democratic United Party, began denouncing the new deal, claiming the revised version favors the United States.
Members of Mr. Lee'sSaenuri Party are accusing the opponents of hypocrisy because the they once strongly backed the treaty.
Some analysts say the whole dispute is really about the April 11 legislative elections and the Dec. 19 presidential election.
Democratic United Party Chairwoman Han Myeong-sook last week said her party will scrap the trade deal if it wins both elections, unless Mr. Lee removes the "poisonous clauses" in the revised treaty.
The opposition is complaining mostly about a section of the treaty that deals with the settlement of trade disputes. Critics claim the new treaty would allow U.S. businesses in Korea take their complaints to international courts instead of Korean ones.
In his speech, the ambassador praised the trade deal as "probably the most important achievement in our bilateral relationship in a generation."
He said the deal, due to take effect at the end of the month, covers $100 billion in two-way trade and removes 95 percent of U.S. and Korean tariffs over five years.
"Consumers in both countries will benefit greatly from tariff cuts," Ambassador Kim said.
NO LOVE LOST
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan quoted "American philosopher Tina Turner" this week when he described the rocky relations between Washington and its key South Asian ally.
"What's love got to do with it?" Ambassador Cameron Munter asked students at the Harvard Kennedy School.
He explained that both countries need each other, regardless of whether they share a mutual fondness.
Pakistani leaders regularly denounce U.S. drone attacks on terrorist targets inside their territory, while American officials complain that Pakistani spymasters are sheltering those same terrorists.
Pakistani officials remain upset about the U.S. commando raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani military garrison town last year.
The CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, however, still cooperate with each other, Mr. Munter said.
"The Pakistani government realizes that we have a lot in common on counterterrorism, and we still have a decent relationship with the [ISI] intelligence," he said.
Mr. Munter, a career diplomat, faulted the United States for failing to display enough respect for the Pakistanis.
"What they want is partnership and a better sense of respect," he said. "We have to be less arrogant."
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