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Petraeus scandal: Jill Kelley's South Korean link

The Tampa socialite caught up in the Petraeus scandal received US State Department approval for her appointment as honorary Korean consul in Florida.

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Korean officials in Seoul and Washington emphasize, however, that the position of honorary consul is voluntary, that the consul is unpaid and has no formal diplomatic status but is seen as a valued link to influential figures. In the case of Kelley, one of 15 honorary Korean consuls in the US, she provided lines of communication to senior officers at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, headquarters of CENTCOM, the US Central Command.

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Daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Kelley formed bonds with commanders to whom Korean officials badly wanted access. Her inner circle included Petraeus, former US commander in Afghanistan, his wife, Holly, and Marine Gen. John Allen, chief of the international security assistance force in Afghanistan.

Kelley, who reportedly sent thousands of e-mails to General Allen and his wife, until two days ago had a pass that enabled her to enter MacDill Air Force Base unescorted. She was reportedly a member of the unofficial “Friends of MacDill” group and bestowed the title of “honorary ambassador” by CENTCOM.

Anxious for close ties to US commanders, Korean officials “recognized Ms. Kelley as someone connected with both the civilian and official community,” says Han Sung-joo, former South Korean foreign minister.

Mr. Han, who also served as ambassador to the US, notes that Korea closed its consulate in Miami around the time that he was foreign minister in the 1990s but found a need to raise its profile with US commanders responsible for leading US troops in wars in the Middle East. Korea has sent small contingents of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

He compares Korea’s desire for ties to CENTCOM with its long established relations with the US Pacific Command in Honolulu. With a full-time consulate in Honolulu, he says, “Much of the work of the consul in Honolulu is with the Pacific Command,” responsible for US forces throughout East Asia, including Korea.

The honorary consul, says Mr. Han, “in many cases can hold dinners or lunches with commanders” – something that Kelley and her husband, Scott, did often.

Han doubts, however, if there was anything amiss in Jill Kelley’s activities on behalf of Korea. “Ms. Kelley is not really implicated,” he says. “She’s just a pretty woman of Lebanese descent who happens to be in the news.”

With the Korean media highlighting the Korean angle, Koreans seem to appreciate the saga of Petraeus and his relationship with Ms. Broadwell, coauthor of a flattering biography of him, mostly for its entertainment value.

 “Everybody does it,” says Seoul shopkeeper Lee Kwang-hoon, “but here somehow they would have fixed it before it was revealed.”

 “It’s a funny case,” says housewife Kim So-yoon, who is also from Seoul. “Too bad he was caught.”

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