Foreign Affairs

Living History with Ambassador Kathleen Stephens: Part II

Witnessing the Pivotal Moments in the U.S.-Korea Relations

This Living History features an interview with Ambassador Kathleen Stephens who served as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Korea from 2008 to 2011. Ambassador Stephens was the first female ambassador and one of the few Korean-speaking senior U.S. diplomats to serve in that position since the opening of the U.S. embassy in Seoul in 1949.

In the second of this two-part interview series with Ambassador Stephens, she reflects on some key agreements and diplomatic achievements made between the U.S. and South Korea during her tenure as the top diplomat in Seoul. This included: the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), the visa waiver program (VWP), joint peacekeeping operations in Iraq, and the diplomatic cooperation on North Korea. Ambassador Stephens contended with the sinking of South Korean navy corvette Cheonan and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korea in 2010 and recounts how South Korea as a nation and the U.S. as an ally responded to these crises.

Based on her deep knowledge, understanding, and affection for the Korean culture, language, and history, Ambassador Stephens offers her personal observations about why conditions that perpetuate political and social divisions still exist and how to resolve these issues in Korean society.

Click on the interview questions below to navigate to the relevant answer section in the video.

QUESTION 1: “What was it like to be a U.S. Ambassador in Korea?

QUESTION 2: “How did you handle the Cheonan sinking and the Yeonpyeong attack in 2010?

QUESTION 3: “What happened after President Roh Moo-hyun’s death in 2009?

QUESTION 4: “What are your thoughts on the political environment in Korea?

Ambassador Kathleen Stephens is the president and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute of America. Previously, she served as a career diplomat within the United States Foreign Service from 1978 to 2015. She was the U.S. charge d’affaires in India from 2014 to 2015 and the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in 2012. She served as the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea from 2008 to 2011. Before moving to Seoul, Ambassador Stephens served in a number of policy positions in Washington, working as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 2005 to 2007, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs from 2003 to 2005, the director of the Department of State Office of Ecology and Terrestrial Conservation from 2001 to 2003, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Lisbon, Portugal, from 1998 to 2001, and the Principal Officer at the U.S. consulate general in Belfast, Northern Ireland, from 1995-1998. She has also been posted to U.S. missions in Croatia, Serbia, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, and China. She holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona and an M.A. from Harvard University’s Kennedy School.