Trade and Politics

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in South Korea over the weekend to meet with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, and President Lee Myung-bak. Back in December, the U.S. and South Korea worked out an agreement on a free trade pact that had been in limbo since 2007. But the deal has yet to be ratified by Congress and the South Korean parliament. Clinton sought to provide reassurances that the agreement would be passed soon: “We will be consulting and making the case together to our respective legislatures and I'm very confident there will be a positive outcome.”

The secretary of state also had an in-depth discussion on North Korea with Lee. The South Korean president thinks that Seoul’s “strategy of patience” is gradually wearing Pyongyang down. On the heels of her trip to South Korea, Clinton flew to Japan for a five-hour visit to show Washington’s support for Tokyo as it struggles in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami.

Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is set to leave for Bahrain this week to help promote “the kind of peaceful dialogue that we believe is necessary there," according to State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Marc Toner. The Bahraini government recently decided to dissolve its central Shia opposition group. Toner said Washington was “concerned” by the decision, adding that “these were legitimate political societies that were recognized by the Government of Bahrain.”

In other news, the little-discussed ambassador to Malta, Douglas Kmiec, is leaving his job. A recent audit by the State Department’s inspector general revealed that Kmiec has been spending a bit too much time talking and writing about his Roman Catholic religion and not enough time on diplomacy. Kmiec maintains that he did nothing wrong, calling the audit report a “flawed and narrow vision of our diplomatic mission.”