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In the midst of all this talk about a crisis in U.S.-South Korea relations, the inexcusable conduct of Ambassador Han Sung-joo, who is the field commander for U.S. relations, is a real disappointment.
Instead of attending a dinner reception hosted by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at his home in Washington on Sept. 10, Mr. Han went to a party celebrating the publication of his wife’s book. The reception hosted by Mr. Rumsfeld was attended by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and ambassadors from key nations that have dispatched troops to Iraq.
Of course Mr. Han has his own reasons. But looking at the results, there is no doubt he was negligent in bypassing an important official event for his wife’s party.
Recently, during the Republican Convention, President George W. Bush failed to mention South Korea as one of the allies who have deployed troops to Iraq. This was a somewhat uncomfortable sign that all is not well in our relations. Moreover, because of the recent array of events, the mysterious explosion in North Korea, nuclear material testing in South Korea and other sensitive incidents, there was all the more reason that he should have been in contact with senior U.S. officials in charge of foreign policy and security, and worked to solidify South Korea-U.S. relations.
The Foreign Ministry gave flimsy excuses such as, “We didn’t know Mr. Powell would come,” and “We thought it was a buffet, not a dinner banquet.” This is unacceptable. Finding out the purpose of a party hosted by an important figure in the U.S. government and discovering who was attending are some of the basic things that the embassy should have known. Especially since the host is a key figure in the U.S. government, this was a good opportunity for U.S.-Korea relations.
The Foreign Ministry has said that it does not intend to reprimand Mr. Han for his conduct because his schedule is his to decide. But when we are hearing things like “South Korea has left the heart of the United States,” the ambassador should not be carrying out his duties so irresponsibly. The ministry should also reflect on what it means to be a diplomat. Think of the expense that goes into one diplomat! That is money, paid by the public, for them to work in public service. We urge Mr. Han and the Foreign Ministry to reaffirm their pledge to serve the public.
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