President Barack Obama named veteran Asia troubleshooter Sung Kim to be the ambassador to South Korea, the first Korean American to represent the United States in Seoul, today.
Kim is now the special envoy to six-nation denuclearization talks with North Korea, but the dialogue has been at a standstill since 2009 when Pyongyang tested a long-range missile and a nuclear bomb.
“It gives me great confidence that such dedicated and capable individuals have agreed to join this administration to serve the American people,” Obama said in a statement announcing a number of new positions.
Kim’s nomination comes one day after a Senate committee confirmed Gary Locke to be the first Chinese American as US ambassador of Beijing. Asian Americans saw Locke’s nomination as historic, as many members of the community have historically complained of being treated as perpetual foreigners.
Kim, who also needs confirmation by the Senate, is a former prosecutor in Los Angeles who became an Asia specialist when he joined the Foreign Service. He has served in Seoul, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong and visited North Korea.
Kim would replace Kathleen Stephens, who has worked to improve the US image in its close ally by speaking Korean and reaching out to ordinary people through Twitter and other social media.
It remains to be seen whether the administration will fill Kim’s current position. The United States also has a special representative for North Korea policy, Stephen Bosworth, and the separation of duties between the two men has sometimes been unclear to outsiders.
The United States has refused to resume six-nation talks with North Korea until it clearly recommits to previous agreements to give up its nuclear program and works to reduce tensions with South Korea.