Korean American Sung Kim has been named the next ambassador to Seoul. Kim made his mark in international affairs as Washington’s special envoy to the six-party talks aimed at getting North Korea to denuclearize.
Kim, 51, will be the first Korean American to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Korea since the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1882.
“We will grant agrément as soon as possible since we are confident that he is the right person who can improve bilateral relations further,” said a senior government official.
Kim began his involvement with North Korean affairs since being appointed chief of political-military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul in 2003. As special envoy he has visited North Korea a dozen times and attended most of the six-party nuclear talks.
Kim is fluent in Korean but has always spoken English in negotiations with North Korea. He gained a reputation for firmness in those talks.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and Loyola University Law School Kim worked as a prosecutor before joining the State Department.
Sung Kim was born in Seoul in 1960 and moved to the U.S. in 1973 after his father, a diplomat at the Korean Embassy in Tokyo, retired from public service in the wake of the kidnapping of the then opposition leader Kim Dae-jung. Sung was close to his father whom he nursed for a year when he had lung cancer in 1993, taking a one-year leave of absence from the State Department. The elder Kim died a year later.
Kim’s father had been one of the people aboard a light plane from Busan to Seoul when it was hijacked to North Korea in 1958 by an unidentified man. He was released after 20 days.
Kim has other famous family ties in S. Korea. His uncle is former anchorman Yim Taek-geun. His cousins are singer Yim Jae-beum and actor and singer Son Ji-chang.
Some in Korea may be disappointed by Kim’s appointment as U.S. envoy. Seoul had been hoping for an ambassador with political stature rather than a career diplomat as a sign that S. Korea is gaining stature among U.S. allies. The current ambassador to S. Korea is Kathleen Stephens, a career diplomat. Kim will face a Senate confirmation hearing before his appointment becomes official.