[Newsmaker] US scraps Victor Cha as pick for ambassador to S. Korea

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : Jan 31, 2018 - 18:03
  • Updated : Jan 31, 2018 - 18:03
Washington has abandoned plans to nominate Victor Cha as the next US ambassador to South Korea, reportedly due to his disagreement with the Trump administration’s “bloody nose” strategy against Pyongyang.

Cha, a former White House official during the Bush administration, is no longer being considered for the job after he raised concerns with National Security Council officials over the Trump administration’s consideration of a limited military strike against North Korea, as well as its threats to terminate a free trade deal with South Korea, the Washington Post reported.

Victor Cha (Yonhap)

With the reasons behind the withdrawal unconfirmed, there are concerns that the decision might signal Washington’s intent to take a hard-line position on North Korea’s nuclear and missiles programs and bilateral trade with Seoul.

“The White House has moved on to other potential candidates,” a US official was quoted as saying by Reuters. The official added that the administration was looking for the “right person” to nominate without elaborating why Cha had been dropped from consideration.

In a Washington Post op-ed published Tuesday, Cha, who is widely seen as a hawkish, stressed that Washington’s “bloody nose” strategy carries a huge risk of escalating into a war.

The strategy is to respond to continued North Korean missile or nuclear tests with a limited military strike to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

“The answer is not, as some Trump administration officials have suggested, a preventive military strike,” he wrote. “A strike (even a large one) would only delay North Korea’s missile-building and nuclear programs, which are buried in deep, unknown places impenetrable to bunker-busting bombs.”

Trump’s administration has said it prefers a diplomatic solution to the North Korea crisis, but it has also said all options, including a military option, are on the table.

Park Jee-kwang, a researcher at Sejong Institute, said that withdrawing Cha from nomination might mean that “the White House is obsessed with the strategy.”

“If the US launches a ‘bloody nose’ strike against the North, it is more likely that North Korea will retaliate (against South Korea) in a limited, secretive manner, rather than return to the negotiating table or abandon its nuclear programs,” he said.

Cha, a former director for Asian affairs on the White House National Security Council during the Bush administration, had been expected to be nominated for months. The post has been vacant for more than a year since Trump took office in January last year. In the interim, Marc Knapper has served as the charge d’affaires to Korea.

In December, the Trump administration requested Seoul’s approval of Cha, which Seoul promptly did. Seoul officials had hoped that the post would be filled before the PyeongChang Olympics.

The US Embassy in Seoul declined to comment on the decision.

“There is nothing the South Korean government can confirm regarding an appointment of a US ambassador to South Korea,” the Foreign Ministry said.