[Viewpoint]U.S. foreign policy stars have aligned

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[Viewpoint]U.S. foreign policy stars have aligned


The Obama administration’s foreign policy team has begun to solidify. Of course, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones were tapped early on. But now that assistant secretaries at the state and defense departments and key ambassadors have been named, U.S. foreign policy is finally taking clear shape.

Some notable appointments are actual promotions of diplomats who have been in charge of Korean Peninsula affairs for the last few years. According to a politically connected source in Washington, former ambassador to Korea Alexander “Sandy” Vershbow is expected to be named the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

The Bureau of International Security Affairs is the largest of the five bureaus at the Pentagon, and oversees Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and NATO, especially the dispatch of NATO forces to Afghanistan. While East Asian, South Asian and Central and South American affairs are not under the ISA, Vershbow will be in charge of the most difficult regions for U.S. foreign relations, including Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, another former ambassador to Korea, has been chosen as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. He has been given the heavy responsibility of overseeing the democratization of Iraq, withdrawal of U.S. forces and development of a future regional security framework in the Middle East.

He has been recognized for the tenacity, patience and outstanding negotiating skills he displayed in dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue and initiating the six-party talks. He will be the second Korea expert to begin handling the Iraq issue, one of the most challenging tasks in U.S. policy.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke, who is close to Hill and is known to be his mentor, has been appointed as the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke and Hill, who had worked together to plan the Dayton Peace Talks in 1995, which led to the end of the war in Bosnia, are now overseeing work on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan together.

Interestingly, Vershbow was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Russia when Holbrooke and Hill were handling the chaos in Eastern Europe. Also, incumbent U.S. Ambassador to Korea Kathleen Stephens was working at the U.S. Embassy in Yugoslavia at the time.

Holbrooke, Hill, Vershbow and Stephens worked together to resolve challenges in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, including war in Eastern Europe, democratization in Central Asia and the disposal of weapons of mass destruction. And for the last few years, the team has handled Korean Peninsula affairs, namely the Korea-U.S. alliance, the North Korean nuclear issue and the maintenance of security and order in Northeast Asia.

It is inspiring that the most knowledgeable U.S. officials in Korean Peninsula affairs have been named to deal with the most important tasks and the most intractable problems facing the U.S. diplomatic corps.

Their experiences on the Korean Peninsula and their stints as ambassadors to Korea certainly helped them.

One can also conclude from their promotions that Korean Peninsula affairs and the Korea?U.S. alliance are significant to Washington.

Most importantly, now that those who understand Korea’s culture and interests and possess personal networks here are working on the Middle East, it will become easy for Seoul to convey to Washington its position on sensitive issues such as troop dispatches to Iraq. This is another step toward making the Korea-U.S. alliance a true global partnership.

Meanwhile, the media here have expressed concerns that Kurt Campbell, the newly appointed assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Wallace Gregson, the new assistant secretary of defense for East Asian and Pacific affairs, are Japan experts.

First of all, we need not worry. Although Gregson had served as the commanding general of the Marine division stationed in Japan, he is a scholar knowledgeable in Korean affairs and is known to be subjective and fair. Kurt Campbell is also an authority in East Asian affairs, including Korea, and he has also served as assistant secretary of defense for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Therefore, we should refrain from reacting sensitively and assuming they would lean towards Japan.

We have arrived at a great opportunity for Korea?U.S. relations. In order to elevate our alliance to a true global partnership, Seoul needs to be closer to Washington than ever, continuing to show serious interest in America’s global strategy and gladly offering to cooperate if necessary.

Washington’s new foreign policy lineup is in Korea’s favor.

Seoul needs to display strategic thinking and diplomatic skill to make the most of this chance.


The writer is a senior political scientist at Rand Corporation. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Hahm Chai-bong
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