(LEAD) (News Focus) Abrupt replacement of national security adviser gives rise to much speculation
(ATTN: UPDATES with other personnel appointments)
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, March 30 (Yonhap) -- The abrupt resignation of Kim Sung-han as national security adviser following the departures of two diplomats under him has left many wondering what really happened that warrants such wholesale replacements less than a month before a summit between President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden.
The most widely cited reason is that Kim sat on a U.S. offer to invite South Korean girl group BLACKPINK to perform at a state dinner Biden plans to host when Yoon visits Washington next month.
Kim reportedly failed to relay the proposal to Yoon in a timely manner, causing a possible delay in preparations for the April 26 state visit.
In announcing his resignation to the press Wednesday, Kim simply said he believed he had completed the job he meant to do and would be returning to his previous job at Korea University as planned.
He also said preparations for the president's visit to the U.S. were proceeding smoothly, but that he did not wish for the "controversy caused by me" to place an additional burden on the country's diplomatic work or administration of state affairs.
The presidential office gave no further explanation.
Instead, it said the president had accepted Kim's resignation offer after deep thought and nominated Ambassador to the U.S. Cho Tae-yong as the new national security adviser.
Only a day earlier, it had dismissed as "different from the truth" reports that Kim, an elementary school schoolmate of Yoon and his trusted foreign policy mentor, could be replaced.
The notion that a BLACKPINK event was the reason for Kim's sudden replacement ahead of a major diplomatic function, such as a state visit to Washington, has left many suspecting that other factors must have come into play.
One source from the ruling bloc said there was a separate issue that arose while planning events for the two presidents and their spouses. Yoon will travel to Washington accompanied by first lady Kim Keon Hee.
"There was an issue related to trust between the two leaders," the source said without elaborating.
The South Korean Embassy in Washington allegedly reported the plan for the joint event in five separate telegrams to Seoul but received no response.
Yoon apparently came to learn of the series of lapses on March 9, the day Kim returned from a visit to Washington where he had met with U.S. officials to coordinate the president's trip.
The next day, Kim Il-bum, presidential secretary for protocol, resigned. Lee Moon-hee, the presidential foreign affairs secretary, was also replaced two weeks later.
Some have speculated that internal friction within the presidential National Security Office led to the reports in question being dropped.
The presidential office sought to allay concerns that the sudden replacements could negatively impact preparations for the state visit.
"The new national security adviser will immediately start taking over," a senior presidential official told reporters Wednesday, noting that Cho was already in Seoul to attend an annual meeting of chiefs of overseas diplomatic missions.
Cho was also deeply involved in preparations for the state visit as the ambassador in Washington, another official said.
Kim's resignation and Cho's appointment are triggering a series of new nominations.
In Cho's place, Yoon tapped First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong as the new ambassador to Washington, though his appointment is subject to Washington's consent, known as an agrement.
The vice minister's replacement has yet to be announced.
A broader reshuffle could also be on the horizon amid speculation that Foreign Minister Park Jin and Unification Minister Kwon Young-se, who double as lawmakers of the ruling People Power Party, will run for reelection in next year's parliamentary elections.
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