The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Kathleen Stephens as Washington's new ambassador to Korea Friday, making her the first woman to hold the top diplomatic position in Seou, Yonhap News reported.
The confirmation comes one day after Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) dropped his opposition to the endorsement of Stephens, a career diplomat. In opposing Stephens, he had cited a lack of effort on the part of the Bush administration to address human rights issues in North Korea.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) announced her confirmation soon after he presented a list of nominations containing her name. No objections were made.
Stephens "is not attending" U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Seoul next week, according to a White House National Security Council spokesperson.
Appearing at the Senate just before the voting was conducted, Stephens told reporters in fluent Korean she "will organize a press conference for Korean correspondents in Washington next week."
The incoming U.S. envoy still requires a diplomatic agreement from the South Korean government before she can officially replace incumbent Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, diplomatic sources here said.
A former Peace Corps volunteer who taught English in Korea, Stephens began her foreign service career in 1978 and served twice in the country, most recently as principal officer at the consulate in Busan in 1987-1989, and as internal political unit chief from 1984-1987 in Seoul.
Stephens has been serving as principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs since 2005, focusing on the management of U.S. relations with Japan and Korea.
From 2003 to 2005, she was deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, addressing Kosovo's future status, the NATO-led mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the integration of the western Balkans in Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Stephens holds a B.A. in East Asian studies from Prescott College and a master's degree from Harvard University. She also studied at the University of Hong Kong and Oxford University.
She speaks fluent Korean and Serbo-Croatian, with limited competence in Cantonese and standard Chinese. She has one son, a student at Olin College of Engineering.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved her nomination in May, but Brownback requested a delay in a floor vote required for confirmation. Bush nominated her in January.
Brownback has also called for the Bush administration to address China's practice of repatriating North Korean defectors, as many observers suspect they face severe persecution in the communist state.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill pledged to address North Korea's human rights abuses at the six-party talks on disabling North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
Hill also told the hearing that he will raise the issue of Korean-American Rev. Kim Dong-shik's abduction. Kim was taken to North Korea in 2000 while helping North Korean defectors seeking refuge in South Korea.
Hill, the chief U.S. nuclear envoy to the multilateral nuclear talks, also said he will invite the U.S. special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz, to attend "all future negotiations with North Korea, except those specifically dealing with nuclear disarmament."
Lefkowitz cancelled his visit to the joint inter-Korean industrial complex in the border town of Kaesong, just north of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, in late July after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by North Korean soldiers near a resort in the communist country.
It would have been the first visit to the North by the envoy since his appointment three years ago. (Yonhap)