Assembly confirms Yun as Park’s foreign minister

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Assembly confirms Yun as Park’s foreign minister


Three minister nominees - from left, Yun Byung-se, Hwang Kyo-ahn and Seo Namsoo- are questioned yesterday at their confirmation hearings. By Kim Hyung-soo

The foreign policy of the Park Geun-hye administration will set its priority on bolstering Seoul’s ties with Washington, Yun Byung-se, foreign minister nominee of the new government, has said, while China was labeled as the second-most important partner.

Yun, a former senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security in the liberal Roh Moo-hyun Blue House, was grilled by lawmakers at a confirmation hearing yesterday. After the hearing, the lawmakers confirmed Yun’s nomination as the first foreign minister of the Park government.

Known as a veteran diplomat with expertise in U.S. affairs who pushed forward the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement during the Roh government, Yun is also one of the architects of Park’s trust-building vision in inter-Korean affairs.

In his preliminary statement submitted to the National Assembly’s Foreign, Trade and Unification Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Yun stated, “The United States is Korea’s top priority foreign affairs partner, and China is next.”

He stated that China was given the second-highest priority because of its economic weight as Korea’s largest trade and investment partner and its role in the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula.

He named Japan and Russia as the next most important partners.

Lawmakers yesterday criticized Yun for having acted insensitively by prioritizing the countries.

They expressed concerns that the four important countries could feel uncomfortable about the position although their cooperation is critical in the aftermath of the North’s recent nuclear test.

Yun said yesterday that his preliminary testimony was misinterpreted, emphasizing that “I have no intention to rank the countries.”

About the speculations that the destination for Park’s first overseas trip will be the United States, Yun said important countries tend to be visited first.

“It’s not to go all-in for the United States,” he said.

Yun will handle a series of pending issues with the United States.

In addition to coordinating policies with Washington to end North Korea’s nuclear programs, Yun needs to oversee the transfer of the wartime operational control, renegotiate the Korea-U.S. nuclear treaty, which is set to expire in 2014, and handle the cost-sharing talks for U.S. Forces Korea.

Park already made it clear that strengthening Korea’s alliance with the United States is a key goal of her diplomacy in her governance road map announced before inauguration.

The theme was also reaffirmed when she received White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on Tuesday at the Blue House.

In addition to Yun’s confirmation hearing, two other minister nominees faced grilling yesterday.

Justice minister nominee Hwang Kyo-ahn and education minister nominee Seo Nam-soo faced criticism at the confirmation hearings over their practices of receiving special treatments after they retired from their civil servant posts.

Yesterday was the second day for the lawmakers to grill the minister nominees.

Three candidates were scrutinized on Wednesday, and Saenuri Representative Yoo Jeong-bok passed the confirmation hearing later in the day to become the minister of security and public administration.

The National Assembly also approved yesterday the confirmation hearing report of Yoo Jin-ryong to become the minister of culture, sports and tourism, making him the second minister to pass the process.

While the slowed-down confirmation process finally picked up speed, pressures grew on Kim Byung-kwan, Park’s defense minister nominee, to give up the post.

In addition to the main opposition Democratic United Party, some lawmakers in the Saenuri Party yesterday questioned Kim’s fitness for the job.

“Kim must give up his nomination,” Representative Shin Jae-chul said yesterday at the ruling party’s leadership meeting. “There are more than 20 scandals about him, and that is more than enough. He should no longer remain as a burden for the new government and give up the nomination as soon as possible.”

Ever since his nomination was announced, Kim was attacked by the DUP over corruption allegations.

The ruling and opposition lawmakers on the National Defense Committee of the legislature could not schedule a confirmation hearing for Kim, as the DUP refused to approve the original plan to have the session on Wednesday.

As the standstill continued, the possibility has risen that President Park will be forced to appoint him without the process.

Under the current law governing confirmation hearings of minister nominees, the National Assembly must hold the hearing within 20 days after the request was made.

By Ser Myo-ja []

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