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Controversial Nominee Appointed South Korean Foreign Minister


South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has formally appointed Song Min-soon as his new foreign minister. Song's appointment comes with controversy, however: South Korea's main opposition party has refused to support him, criticizing his stance on relations with North Korea and the United States. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun formally installed Song Min-soon as the country's top diplomat at a ceremony in the presidential Blue House in Seoul.

Song has spent most of the last year as Mr. Roh's chief secretary for security policy, and previously served as South Korea's chief negotiator on the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons.

He succeeds Ban Ki-Moon, who recently left to become U.N. secretary-general. Song assumes the foreign minister's post amid heavy criticism that he is too accommodating towards North Korea, and too critical of the United States.

In September, Song was quoted as saying the United States "has probably been involved in the greatest number of wars in the history of mankind." He reportedly went on to warn against leaving South Korea's fate "in the hands of the United States".

U.S. military forces liberated the Korean peninsula from Japan in 1945, and drove invading North Korean and Chinese forces back across the current border during the 1950's Korean War. Under South Korea's alliance with Washington, about 28-thousand U.S. soldiers remain to deter any attempt by the North to repeat the 1950 invasion.

Song faced strong criticism during recent confirmation hearings from members of South Korea's opposition Grand National Party who say he is too lenient toward North Korea and too critical of the United States.

Grand National Party floor leader Kim Hyung-oh said nominees like Song will only have a negative effect on South Korea's image and prosperity.

Song is widely seen as a chief architect of President Roh's engagement policy, which has tried to build trust with Pyongyang by transferring billions of dollars in aid to the North with few, if any, strings attached. That policy came under withering criticism after the North's test of a nuclear weapon in October.

But Song says his positions, especially regarding the United States, have been misinterpreted.

He says he believes in consultation and coordination with Washington, and questions how he managed to provoke such misunderstanding.

Song's supporters point out that he was chiefly responsible for a statement that emerged in September 2005 from the six-nation talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear programs. In that statement, widely considered the rare moment of success in the otherwise sterile talks, Pyongyang committed in principle to dismantling its nuclear programs. In exchange, it would receive diplomatic and economic benefits.

Despite their misgivings, skeptical lawmakers failed to block Song's nomination, because they have no formal authority to do so under South Korea's constitution. They called instead for him to retract his nomination voluntarily.

As the new foreign minister, Song is scheduled to accompany Mr. Roh on a tour of Southeast Asian and South Pacific nations this Sunday.

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