New U.S. ambassador to Seoul: New U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens, left, is greeted by embassy staff at Incheon International Airoprt, west of Seoul, Tuesday. / Yonhap
By Kim Sue-young
New U.S. Ambassador to Korea Kathleen Stephens promised to listen to the South Korean people upon her arrival at Incheon International Airport, Tuesday.
She also underlined that close ties between the two countries are necessary to solve major pending issues such as a free trade agreement, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the visa-waiver program.
``I will listen to the voices of the South Korean government and people,'' she said in a statement that she read in Korean to local media. ``As the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, I will make every effort to explain the U.S. government's position.''
The first-ever female ambassador to Seoul is known for her fluent Korean language skills that she acquired over years of living here.
Stephens returned 33 years after she first arrived in Yesan, South Chungcheong Province as a member of the Peace Corps in 1975. She taught English for three years.
Having worked and lived in Korea, she used her Korean name, Shim Eun-kyung.
She recollected that experiences in Korea inspired her to become a diplomat.
The envoy stressed solid bilateral alliance, citing a Korean proverb, ``Even the rivers and mountains change in 10 years'' South Korea remains a key ally of the United States and a main player in the region, she told reporters. She took note of the fact that South Korea has changed a lot in the economic and political landscape over the past 30 years.
In regard to recent massive protests against the resumption of U.S. beef imports, the ambassador showed a positive view that those rallies prove democracy is prevailing in South Korea.
She also vowed to help improve the human rights situation in North Korea, saying North Koreans deserve to have the same rights as anybody else in other countries.
After joining the U.S. foreign service in 1978, Stephens served as principal officer at the consulate in Busan between 1987 and 1989 and an internal political unit chief from 1984 to 1987 at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
She has 22-year-old son James, a college student born to her and her former Korean husband.