- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2012

KOREAN ENVOY QUITS

The South Korean ambassador to the United States surprised observers in Seoul Thursday when he offered his resignation to President Lee Myung-bak.

Ambassador Han Duk-soo, who was in Seoul for a meeting of South Korean ambassadors, made no public comments. South Korean officials declined to explain his sudden decision on the third anniversary of his arrival in Washington.

“His resignation is likely to be accepted,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae.

Mr. Han was expected to remain ambassador until the end of Mr. Lee’s term next year.

However, he had said privately he intended to step down after U.S. and Korean lawmakers ratified the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Congress approved the deal in October, and the South Korean legislature passed it in November.

Mr. Han, who served as prime minister and finance minister before coming to Washington, is expected to be named chairman of the Korea International Trade Association, according to South Korean reports.

Possible candidates to replace Mr. Han include Chun Yung-woo, a presidential national security adviser, and Il SaKong, former chairman of the Korean trade association.

The ambassador considered the free-trade agreement his most important goal after arriving here in 2009, when the treaty was in jeopardy.

Former President George W. Bush and former Korean President Roh Moo-hyun signed the deal in 2007, but President Obama began renegotiations over the trade pact after taking office in 2009. He and South Korea’s current president signed the new treaty last year.

In a speech in June, Mr. Han warned that “time is running out” to reach an agreement on the accord.

“A failure to ratify the [treaty] would not only be harmful to U.S. business interests. It would also diminish America’s influence in East Asia at a time when its influence is badly needed,” he said.

In South Korea, the new treaty is facing a backlash from the opposition Democratic United Party, which has pledged to repeal the deal if it wins the majority in the April 11 legislative elections and the presidency in December.

The trade pact will eliminate 95 percent of U.S. and Korean tariffs over the next five years. Mr. Han said the deal will increase U.S. exports to Korea by as much as $11 billion.

The White House says the deal will create or support 70,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs and another 29,000 jobs in agriculture.

A DIFFERENT DRUMMER

Alexander Vershbow, a respected U.S. diplomat and radical rock-and-roll drummer, this week took office as the first American to serve as deputy secretary-general of NATO.

“Ambassador Vershbow is a highly distinguished diplomat who will bring a wealth of experience and expertise to this important post,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Mr. Vershbow succeeds Claudio Bisogniero of Italy and previously served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

He was ambassador to South Korea from 2005 to 2008 and ambassador to Russia from 2001 to 2005.

His new post returns him to Brussels, where he served as U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1998 to 2001.

That is where he met an ambassador from Hungary, Andras Simonyi, who recruited him to join a rock band cheekily called the Coalition of the Willing.

Mr. Simonyi, who later served as ambassador to the United States, is a devoted rock guitar player and often would pull a band together whenever Mr. Vershbow was in Washington.

They once famously performed at the Hungarian Embassy with 1970s rock legend Tommy Ramone.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


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