Scramble by Korea to paint assault as a one-off

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Scramble by Korea to paint assault as a one-off

Worried that the attack on America’s top envoy to Seoul could harm the decades-old alliance with Washington, the Korean government moved quickly throughout Thursday to identify the assault as an “isolated incident.”

U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert was seriously stabbed by nationalistic activist Kim Ki-jong at a public event in downtown Seoul, only 100 meters (328 feet) away from the U.S. Embassy, and images of the diplomat dripping blood spread quickly around the world.

President Park Geun-hye called the assault “an unacceptable attack on the Korea-U.S. alliance” and promised a thorough investigation.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying it wouldn’t tolerate harmful acts against diplomatic envoys under any circumstance. “In particular, the government of the Republic of Korea takes it very seriously that such an act was committed against the ambassador from the U.S., the ROK’s most important ally,” it said.

President Park, who was on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, telephoned Lippert at the hospital and said she sympathizes with him, having experienced a similar attack in the past.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se also telephoned Lippert and said, “The Korea-U.S. alliance is too strong to be affected by this one isolated unfortunate incident.”

Korean Ambassador to the United States Ahn Ho-Young contacted Daniel Russel, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and explained the situation. “The United States is treating this attack as an isolated incident that is separate from the Korea-U.S. alliance,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said. “The two countries agree that they will have to cooperate closely so that negative perceptions and misunderstandings about Korea-U.S. relations will not spread from this incident.”

Cho Hyun-dong, the Korean Embassy’s minister for political affairs, also contacted Sung Kim, deputy assistant secretary of state, and Shin Jae-hyun, director-general for North American Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, contacted Ed Dong, minister-counselor for the political section of the U.S. Embassy here, to explain the situation.

“The two countries agreed that the incident should not be exploited politically and hinder the Korea-U.S. alliance,” another Foreign Ministry official said.

Lippert also posted a message on his Twitter account at 4:34 p.m., and tried to calm the possible impact on the two countries’ relations.

“Doing well&in great spirits! Robyn, Sejun, Grigsby & I - deeply moved by the support! Will be back ASAP to advance US-ROK alliance!” he wrote, referring to his wife, newborn son and family pet dog. He also added a Korean-language statement that read, “Let’s go together!”

“The attacker is an extreme nationalist who even threw bricks at the Japanese ambassador in 2010,” said Moon Chung-in, professor of political science at Yonsei University. “It was the radical action of one individual. It is wrong and against the national interest to give the impression that anti-Americanism is spreading in Korea.”

The incident, however, came at a sensitive time. Koreans were angered recently at a top U.S. official’s criticism of Korean and Chinese attitudes toward Japan. Wendy Sherman, undersecretary for political affairs in the U.S. State Department, said it is easy for a leader to “earn cheap applause” by reproaching a former foe, but such “provocations” only paralyze regional affairs.

Seoul said earlier this month it was not taking her statement lightly and has asked Washington to clarify its stance.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said Thursday that he does not agree with the view that Sherman’s controversial remarks are an indication that relations between Seoul and Washington were shaken.

The attack is expected to influence inter-Korean relations since the assailant called for a halt to a joint Korea-U.S. military drill, a frequent demand made by North Korea.

Pyongyang did not wasted any time supporting the attacker of the U.S. ambassador, saying in a Korea Central News Agency release that the attack was “deserved punishment for a warmongering United States.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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