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South Korea's Moon taps new ambassador to U.S. as allies face North Korea, defence costs

South Korea's Moon taps new ambassador to U.S. as allies face North Korea, defence costs
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during an irregular cabinet meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, August 2, 2019. Yonhap via REUTERS -
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SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in tapped a seasoned former diplomat as his new ambassador to Washington on Friday as South Korea steps up efforts to connect with the Trump administration on issues such as North Korea, defence costs and trade.

Moon tapped Lee Soo-hyuck, a veteran diplomat who was South Korea’s chief negotiator at six-party disarmament talks between 2003 and 2005, a former deputy foreign minister and first deputy director of the National Intelligence Service.

Lee, 70, represents a more conventional choice after Moon first offered the position to Moon Chung-in, the president’s special adviser on foreign affairs and national security, South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo and media reported on Friday.

Moon Chung-in, a frequent political commentator whose positions were often seen to reflect the administration’s thinking, declined the post, media reported.

Lee, who also served as South Korea’s ambassador to Germany in 2005, was recruited to Moon’s team in 2016 ahead of his campaign for president and is currently a lawmaker in the ruling party.

The post is crucial to U.S. and South Korean relations as the allies face North Korea’s frequent missile launches amid stalled denuclearisation talks and U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday discussions had begun to get South Korea to pay more for the cost of maintaining U.S. troops in the region to guard against any threat from North Korea.

South Korea has also tried to engage with U.S. officials over its trade row with Japan.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Paul Tait)

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