By Yoon Won-sup
The United States tapped Kathleen Stephens, adviser at the State Department on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, as the next ambassador to Seoul, according to sources Thursday.
The State Department named her as the single candidate for the post, and recently requested an official White House nomination. Stephens will replace Ambassador Alexander Vershbow next fall after the Congress confirmation hearing slated for summer.
Sources said that Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state, recommended her for the ambassadorial position for her understanding and experiences on Korean affairs. Stephens now serves as advisor to Hill, the top U.S. negotiator to North Korean nuclear talks, and reportedly is workings on a peace treaty for the Korean Peninsula.
U.S.-based Radio Free Asia also reported that Stephens will easily get approval from the confirmation hearing because she is expected to work better with Hill than Vershbow. She showed excellent performance, particularly on the North Korean nuclear issue, while working with Hill, according to sources.
If confirmed, she will become the first female ambassador of the United States to South Korea.
However, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul refused to comment on the report but said that Vershbow will likely leave Korea next year considering U.S. ambassadors usually finish their mission here in three years. Vershbow began his job here in October 2005.
Stephens' overseas assignments were deputy chief of mission in Lisbon, Portugal, consul general in Belfast, Nothern Ireland, consular officer in Guangzhou, China, political officer in Seoul and principal officer in Busan, Korea. She joined the foreign service in 1978.
Stephen picked up the Korean language when she worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea from 1975 to 1977. She also speaks Cantonese and Mandarin.