Stephens to stay put as ambassador till Kim confirmed

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Stephens to stay put as ambassador till Kim confirmed

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Korea Kathleen Stephens will likely delay her departure in light of the U.S. Senate’s delay in confirming the nomination of Sung Kim as the new American envoy to Korea, a diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

Stephens had already been scheduled to attend President Lee Myung-bak’s summit with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Oct. 13, but she will return to Korea to continue regular duties as U.S. ambassador for the time being, the source said.

The ambassador was previously scheduled to return to the United States this month and start as a visiting scholar at Georgetown University.

Stephens took her post as U.S. ambassador in September 2008 and has had farewell meetings with local media, politicians and government officials in the past month.

“The Senate’s confirmation of Sung Kim as U.S. ambassador to Korea is being delayed and they can’t leave the seat vacant for a long time, so Ambassador Stephens will handle the work in Korea,” the source said.

The source said that the ambassador would be able to use the extra time in Seoul to bid adieu to a country she is deeply acquainted with. Stephens, who volunteered in Korea as a U.S. Peace Corps member in the 1970s, speaks fluent Korean and has many Korean friends.

Kim’s confirmation has been put on hold by a U.S. senator who takes issue with the Obama administration’s policies on food assistance to North Korea.

Some in the local diplomatic circle expect the Senate to confirm Kim before next month’s Korea-U.S. summit to impress President Lee.

Stephens also saw her confirmation delayed for four months in 2008 when Senator Sam Brownback took issue with the U.S. government’s policies on North Korean human rights. But she was finally confirmed five days ahead of a summit between Lee and former U.S. President George W. Bush.

If Kim is confirmed early next month, he will likely start his new job as U.S. ambassador late next month, given the procedure of presenting his letter of accreditation.

Some diplomatic observers predict Kim’s arrival in Korea will facilitate U.S. efforts to engage the North, including a second round of denuclearization talk between the two countries.


By Kwon Ho, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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