By Jamie Crawford, CNN
The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Sung Y. Kim to be the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea after a Republican senator lifted a hold on the nomination that had threatened to derail the effort.
A unanimous consent request by Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, to move the nomination forward was approved without objection. Kim's confirmation came minutes before South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was to address a joint meeting of Congress, and a few hours before President Barack Obama was set to host a state dinner at the White House in Lee's honor.
Senator Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, had placed a hold on the confirmation of Kim, a career diplomat who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, over concerns about the direction of U.S. policy toward North Korea. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton obtained by CNN, Kyl expressed "serious concern" about reports the United States may be considering a return to the Six-Party Talks with North and South Korea, Japan, China and Russia regarding the north's nuclear program.
The letter, which did not mention Kim by name, sought guarantees from Clinton that the United States would not engage in any more bilateral talks with North Korea, and asked for a written response explaining the administration's intentions towards Pyongyang.
By Sr. State Dept. Producer Elise Labott
State visits for foreign leaders are meant to signify the importance the U.S. president places on the relationship with a particular country.
Such is the case for South Korea, whose president, Lee Myung-bak, arrives in Washington later this week for a state visit. Lee's arrival comes on the heels of a free trade agreement with Seoul being sent last week to Congress for final approval.
In addition to an Oval Office meeting with President Barack Obama Thursday, Lee will be feted at a State Department luncheon on Wednesday hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a state dinner Thursday at the White House.
But it looks as if Obama's choice to be his new ambassador to Seoul won't be part of the festivities, due to a nail-biting political standoff over his confirmation which former diplomats warn could affect U.S. relations with a major ally and trading partner.