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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 13)

All News 07:15 April 13, 2017

No US envoy

Vacancy pokes alliance, weakens stand against NK

The absence of a U.S. ambassador to Korea has never been felt so acutely as now amid rising tension on the Korean Peninsula. A prompt appointment could put away questions about the ROK-U.S. alliance and help strengthen its joint stand against North Korea.

The post has been left vacant for nearly three months since Mark Lippert left in January. Now the embassy is run by his deputy and is trying its best by accenting the two countries' alliance as a "linchpin." It has done much but it is overly expecting for it to cover the gaping hole that could be plugged by an appointment.

True, U.S. internal politics have held up the naming of a new envoy to Seoul, one of many jobs requiring congressional confirmation. Still, ambassadors to China, Russia and Japan have been named. The U.S. government has traditionally filled the Korean post with a junior to those going to the big powers.

But the situation is different this time, calling for more than the usual way of doing business.

Tension has been jacked up following Trump's repeated ultimatum that the U.S. would act alone on North Korea, if China doesn't help.

With its aircraft carrier battle group changing directions to head to Korea, the fear of war has been raised dramatically. Rumors of Americans evacuating have added to the mix.

To calm public jitters, the government has gone to the extent of saying in public that Washington cannot attack Pyongyang without Seoul's consent. Ironically, it made the U.S. look like an enemy rather than an ally and that could cause a rift in the alliance.

If there had been an ambassador in place, the situation could have saved both allies a lot of trouble. He or she would have presented the solidarity of the alliance to the public and communicated with the Korean government to preclude any misunderstandings.

The Trump administration has designated resolution of the North Korean challenge as its priority foreign policy goal. That is the right move but it should be remembered that there would be no ultimate resolution to the Pyongyang conundrum without the participation and understanding of Seoul, a key stakeholder as the country that is most immediately affected by any change of the status quo.

If Trump is serious about his North Korean initiative, it's imperative that he should send an ambassador to Korea soon and send somebody who can have hotline access with him like Lippert, a young protégé of President Obama, or is a senior expert to the level of Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly or his successor Christopher Hill. Judging by his preference for and trust of generals, Trump must know that having a good field commander is the key to winning a war. There is no time to waste.


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