U.S. Nuclear Envoy Tipped as Ambassador to Seoul

      May 20, 2011 09:32

      Sung Kim

      Washington's special envoy to the six-party nuclear talks is likely to become the next ambassador to South Korea, a diplomatic source in Seoul said Thursday. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently recommended Sung Kim to the White House as the successor to Ambassador Kathleen Stephens "and most of the verification procedures have been completed."

      If Kim is chosen, it would be the first time in the 129-year history of bilateral ties that an ethnic Korean has been appointed to the position.

      At the beginning of this year, the State Department was considering Joseph Donovan, a deputy assistant secretary of state. But given the increased importance the U.S. places on diplomacy with South Korea, President Barack Obama apparently told staff to look for a candidate among experts who would appeal to Seoul.

      Born in 1960, Kim moved to the U.S. when he was in middle school after his father, a diplomat at the Korean Embassy in Tokyo, retired from public service.

      He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and Loyola University Law School and worked as a public prosecutor before becoming a diplomat. He is fluent in Korean, but always spoke English in negotiations with North Korea, where he gained a reputation for firmness.

      He began to handle North Korea issues as chief of political-military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul in 2003. Since then, he has attended almost all of the six-party talks and visited North Korea a dozen times.

      In 2006 he was tapped by then-assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill to head the Office of Korean Affairs at the State Department and handled work related to Korean issues including the transfer of full operational control of South Korean troops to Seoul, the North Korean nuclear crisis and the South Korean presidential elections. In September of 2008, Kim was given the rank of ambassador as special envoy for North Korean affairs and chief representative to the six-party talks.

      After Obama's appointment of Chinese-American Gary Locke as ambassador to China drew a positive response, U.S. officials began to consider Kim as envoy to South Korea.

      Kim is married to a Korean who graduated from Ewha Womans University and has two daughters.

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