The Cable

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea finally confirmed

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) lifted a longstanding secret hold on Sung Kim, the nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea, only minutes before the South Korean president was set to speak to a joint session of Congress. The Senate confirmed Kim just now.

"Jon Kyl is holding up Sung Kim and he won't budge," Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) told The Cable only two hours ago, over a drink just before President Lee Myung-bak was honored in a lunch with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden.

Several administration officials at the lunch told The Cable that after weeks of frustration, Kyl's office had finally agreed to receive a briefing on North Korea policy from State Department officials, which took place yesterday on Capitol Hill. Officials were working hard to convince Kyl's staff to allow the Kim nomination to go through in conjunction with Lee's visit and as part of this week's celebration of the U.S.-South Korean relationship.

There were various accounts of what exactly Kyl wanted from the administration in exchange for lifting the hold on Kim. Some administration officials said Kyl was requesting a series of letters that defined the administration's engagement with North Korea and made pledges to limit that engagement.

One official said that Kyl's demands seemed to change over time, but centered around assurances that the United States would not continue to meet with the North Koreans. A second U.S.-North Korea meeting is expected to be announced soon and would probably take place in a third country, such as Sweden.

Regardless, before Kyl lifted his hold, administration officials expressed frustration and embarrassment that they had not been able to push through Kim's confirmation. "It's a disgrace," one official at the lunch told The Cable.

"Koreans take this kind of thing very seriously," said another U.S. official, who happened to be of Korean descent.

The lunch itself was an elegant affair in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room on the State Department's 8th  floor.

The appetizer was a roasted tomato, avocado, quinoa tower with pistachio mint pesto, fennel, caper dressing. For the entrée we had lemongrass sesame chicken with ginger-tamarind sauce, carrot-ginger puree, broccolini, and pearl onions. Dessert was a warm chocolate tart with milk chocolate mousse and malted milk ice cream.

Clinton's opening remarks praised the passage of the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement last night and said the pact will "spur economic growth, bringing our nations even closer together," and is "another clear example of the United States' commitment to the Asia Pacific region."

"We are a resident military, diplomatic and economic power and we are in Asia to stay," she said, reprising the themes in her Foreign Policy article to applause.

Biden spoke next and talked about how Lee's nickname was "the bulldozer," which he earned early in his career when he dismantled a bulldozer to learn how to build one and make it work better

"I wondered how in the Lord's name you got that nickname," Biden said, noting that Lee doesn't look like an NFL linebacker. But, Biden said, "his persistence exceeds any linebacker who ever hit me."

Lee began his remarks by pointing out that that the bulldozer he took apart was made by Caterpillar, a not-so-subtle gesture to the crowd, which included dozens of U.S. and South Korean business executives.

Administration officials in attendance included Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, Counselor Harold Koh, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, CIA Director David Petraeus, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer, NSC Senior Director Gary Samore, DNI's Joe DeTrani, and Sung Kim himself.

Other notables at the lunch included Lugar, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), former NSC Senior Director Jeff Bader, former NSC Director Victor Cha, former North Korea Special Envoy Jack Pritchard, and former NSC Director Chuck Jones.

Your humble Cable guy rode the elevator with actor Ken Jeong, who flew in for the event from Los Angeles with his father.  Jeong told us there is a third installment of the movie The Hangover in the works, but claimed he didn't have any plot details.

Obama and Lee had a private dinner Wednesday evening at Woo Lae Oak, a Korean restaurant in Tyson's Corner, VA.  Tomorrow, they will travel to Detroit to visit a General Motors plant.

Read President Lee's speech to Congress here.

The Cable

Opposition mounts to Bahrain arms sale

Five Democratic senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday to ask her to delay a planned $53 million arms sale to Bahrain because of the island kingdom's continued violence against protesters.

"We recognize the administration's commitment to the United States' strategic relationship with Bahrain... However, the Bahrain government's repressive treatment of peaceful protesters during the past several months is unacceptable," the senators wrote in their Oct. 12 letter, obtained by The Cable.

"The United States must make it clear to the government of Bahrain that its ongoing human rights violations and unwillingness to acknowledge legitimate demands for reform have a negative impact on its relationship with the United States."

The letter's signatories were Senate Foreign Relations Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee chairman Robert Casey (D-PA), Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The letter accuses the Bahrain government of torture and notes reporting by Human Rights Watch that states Bahrain's government has killed 34 protesters, arrested 1,400 more, and dismissed 3,600 people from their jobs for anti-government activities.

"Completing an arms sale to Bahrain under the current circumstances would weaken U.S. credibility at a critical time of democratic transition in the Middle East," the senators wrote.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) has not commented on the issue and requests for comment were not returned.

Wyden and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) have each introduced a resolution in their respective chambers to prevent the U.S. government going through with the sale, which would include 44 armored, high-mobility Humvees and over 300 advanced missiles, 50 of which are bunker-buster missiles similar to those sold secretly to Israel in 2009.

"Selling weapons to a regime that is violently suppressing peaceful civil dissent and violating human rights is antithetical to our foreign policy goals and the principle of basic rights for all that the U.S. has worked hard to promote," Wyden said in a release.

"Human rights ought to matter in our foreign and military policy," McGovern said in his own release."Supporting regimes that violate the basic rights of their people is not just morally wrong - it's also not in our national security interests. Now is not the time to sell weapons to Bahrain."

The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain, and fear of endangering its home base is one reason many have speculated that the Obama administration has maintained ties with Bahrain's monarchy despite the domestic crackdown. Bahrain is also a client state of Saudi Arabia and policymakers have voiced fears that a victory by the predominantly Shiite protest movement would strengthen Iranian influence in the country.

The State Department argued in its Sept. 14 notification to Congress that the proposed sale will contribute to U.S. national security "by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East."

Meanwhile, Bahrain's parliament this week issued a vote of no confidence to the appointment of the new U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Thomas Krajeski because he met with opposition groups in Washington before arriving in Manama.

"This diplomat has a volatile agenda against Bahrain and the nation and we can't accept having him here," said Bahrain member of parliament Ali Ahmed, who is president of the Al Menbar bloc of lawmakers. "We are here to represent the people and they don't want him and our wish should be respected."

UPDATE: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent his own letter to Clinton today regarding the arms sale, in which he asked the administration to delay sale of the humvees, but not the missiles.  Rubio wrote that the administration should delay the sale of "any items within the proposed weapons package that could be used to disrupt peaceful dissent."