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1st Woman U.S. Envoy to Korea Set to Take Office

Posted August. 04, 2008 03:09,   


The first woman to head the U.S. Embassy in Seoul will take office after receiving unanimous Senate approval Friday.

U.S. ambassador-designate to Seoul Kathleen Stephens still requires an official appointment by U.S. President George W. Bush and a diplomatic agreement from Korea, but is expected to assume her new post late this month or early next month.

Stephens, whose adopted Korean name Shim Eun-gyeong, said thank you in Korean before the Senate vote.

After being nominated Jan. 22, she underwent a confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee April 22. Senator Sam Brownback objected to her appointment, citing lack of effort by the Bush administration to address human rights in North Korea.

Stephens is fluent in Korean and familiar with Korean culture. For example, she knows how to make kimchi, dresses up in traditional Korean costume on New Year’s Day and makes Korean rice cake soup.

Her ties with South Korea date back to 1975, when she worked in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province, for a year as a Peace Corps volunteer.

She then taught English at a junior high school for two years before passing the foreign service exam in 1977. She began life as a diplomat a year later.

Stephens served in Korea twice, first as internal political unit chief in 1984-1987 at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and then principal officer at the Busan consulate in 1987-1989.

She also worked for chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill from 2005 to this year as a senior assistant secretary and special envoy. Hill recommended her as U.S. ambassador to Seoul.

Stephens has visited South Korea three to four times a year and discussed a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula scheduled after North Korea’s nuclear program is resolved through the six-party talks.

She has a son James with her ex-Korean husband, whom she met while serving in South Korea. She brought James to her confirmation hearing in April and introduced him, saying he learned how to bridge the two cultures from an early age.