South Korea taps new envoy to U.S. as allies face North Korea, defense costs

FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrives ahead of the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in tapped a seasoned former diplomat as his new ambassador to Washington on Friday as Seoul steps up efforts to connect with the Trump administration on issues such as North Korea, defense costs and trade.

Lee Soo-hyuck, a veteran diplomat who was South Korea’s chief negotiator at six-party disarmament talks between 2003 and 2005, is 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.

A senior Blue House official said Lee and Moon Chung-in were considered for the post at the same time, and Moon Chung-in did decline the post.

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 denuclearization 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 and Darren Schuettler