Updated April. 11, 2008 03:06
U.S. Ambassador-designate to Seoul Kathleen Stephens once taught English in Yesan County, South Chungcheong Province as a Peace Corps member at the age of 22 in 1975. Her Korean name was Shim Eun-gyeong. On Wednesday, she appeared at the confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee with her son, James, born between her and her ex-Korean husband.
The ambassador-designate showed her affection for Korea, saying that she would listen and learn a lot in Korea. She also said she would try to speak in Korean a lot to understand Korean culture she respects deeply.
After the hearing, she said in fluent Korean to Korean reporters that she would do her best to strengthen the alliance between Korea and the United States.
The atmosphere of the hearing was bright as her confirmation was almost an established fact.
Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy who sat with the designate at the witness stand said that she would be the first U.S. ambassador who can speak Korean and had volunteered to work in Korea as a member of the Peace Corps. Most Senators at the hearing spent time sending well-wishing remarks and encouraging her instead of asking questions.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Korea James Lilley, former Peace Corps Korea Director John Keaton, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Alexander Arvizu and chief of the North Korea Unit at the State Department Yuri Kim supported Stephens at the hearing.
The nominee presented her four goals she wants to achieve as an ambassador: transformation of the U.S. and Korea alliance, enforcement of the KORUS FTA, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a complete and verifiable manner, and expansion of people-to-people exchanges between the two nations.
She said that the Korea-U.S. FTA is the most commercially significant free trade deal the United States has concluded over the past 15 years. If confirmed as ambassador, and upon FTA ratification, I will make it a top priority to work with the U.S. Trade Representative to ensure that the provisions of the agreement are enforced across the board," she added.
The nominee also said that Korea should reopen its market to American beef, respecting international guidelines.
Hinting at the possibility of building a settlement for North Korean defectors, Stephens said that the two nations would find out a solution, which will solve the problem in a sustainable manner, after emphasizing a close cooperation between the United States and Korea.
Regarding the issue of sending Korean troops to Afghanistan, she said, "I think this is a discussion we should have with the new government. I think we need to discuss what the needs are in Afghanistan and see how they can contribute. Stephens added that these issues would be discussed during President Lee Myung-baks visit to the United States scheduled for next week.