Sung Kim to become first U.S. ambassador of Korean descent

Posted on : 2011-06-06 13:06 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Sung has significant experience related to N.Korea issues and diplomacy

By Kwon Tae-ho, Washington Correspondent 

A figure who, as a young boy, followed his father to the United States after his father stepped down from his government post following his implication in the abduction of late President Kim Dae-jung is returning to South Korea as a U.S. ambassador.

It was reported Saturday (local time) that the U.S. government requested agreement last week on Ambassador Sung Kim, 51, who has served as a special envoy for the six-party talks to the South Korean government. This marks the first-time in 129 years of Korean-U.S. diplomatic relations that an individual of Korean descent has been appointed as U.S. ambassador.

Kim, who immigrated to Los Angeles with his parents, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and attended law school at Loyola University. He worked as a prosecutor before entering the State Department in the mid-1990s, where he has since spent many years handling issues related the Korean Peninsula. In 2003, he worked as a first secretary for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Kim, whose Korean name is Kim Seong-yong, is the nephew of former MBC executive director Lim Taek-geun, who was a famous announcer in the 1960s and 1970s, and the cousin of singer Yim Jae-beom.

Since drawing attention in 2006 as the first Korean-American to serve as head of the State Department’s South Korea bureau, Kim has been a working-level official on North Korean issues, taking on the role of representative to the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue in 2008. In May of that year, during the Bush administration, he returned from North Korea via Panmunjeom with records on the operation of the Yongbyon reactor provided by North Korea, and later that year he led a U.S. delegate to the scene of the demolition of a cooling tower for the nuclear power plant.

Kim has visited North Korea a total of ten times, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the White House National Security Council are known to depend heavily on his opinions due to his expertise on Korean Peninsula issues. He also insists on using English during negotiations with North Korea and does not play up his Korean heritage, saying that this is to avert any mistakes in judgment by North Korea or improper use of specialized terminology by himself.

Kim’s father was implicated in the abduction of Kim Dae-jung during the Park Chung-hee administration while serving as a minister to Japan. A 2007 report on the abduction produced by the National Intelligence Service Truth and Reconciliation Commission said that Kim’s father “received orders from the Korean Central Intelligence Agency to abduct Kim Dae-jung and demanded confirmation, saying that he ‘could not pursue the operation before verifying the approval of President Park Chung-hee.’”

Kim’s father ended up leaving his post for the United States in the wake of the abduction. This resulted in the name change from “Kim Seong-yong” to “Sung Kim.” Kim’s father was abducted to North Korea in 1958 by an armed assailant after boarding a Korea National Airlines light aircraft bound for Seoul from Busan. He was returned to South Korea around three weeks after his abduction by way of Panmunjeom.

If his Senate ratification proceeds smoothly, Kim is set to take office around August. Sources said the White House originally considered plans for appointing a prominent politician as the next U.S. ambassador, and the decision was made due to the combination of a strong recommendation by Clinton and the determination by the White House that his expertise on North Korea issues made him the optimal candidate at a time when a number of issues are confronting the peninsula.

Kim’s wife is a South Korean woman who attended Ewha Womans University. The couple has two daughters, aged 15 and 11.


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