A veteran U.S. State Department diplomat is leading a delegation of American officials that went to North Korea on Sunday to discuss arrangements for a June summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, The Washington Post reports. The meeting comes amid questions over whether the meeting, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, will happen.
Sung Kim, who has been the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines since 2016, was previously the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea from 2011 to 2014 and was previously a nuclear negotiator with North Korea, met with Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s vice foreign minister. A White House official, Allison Hooker, the National Security Council’s Korea specialist and a Department of Defense official were also in the delegation, The Post reports.
Here’s what you need to know about Sung Kim:
1. Sung Kim & the U.S. Delegation Are Expected to Continue Meetings Over the Next 2 Days & an Expert Says the Dialogue Is a ‘Great Step’
Sung Kim, 58, and the other American officials are expected to continue meeting with their North Korean counterparts on Monday and Tuesday at the “Unification House” in the DMZ, The Washington Post reports. The meetings come after surprise inter-Korea talks that took place on Saturday.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Kim Jong Un and after those talks, the South Korean president said Kim is still committed to “complete denuclearization.” Moon said after the meeting, “We two leaders agreed the June 12 North Korea-U.S. summit must be successfully held.”
Analysts told The Washington Post that the selection of Sung Kim to lead the U.S. delegation in the run-up to a possible June summit was a major positive.
“This is a great step,” said Vipin Narang, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The Post. “This is how progress is made, and the best chance to have a summit, and one that yields meaningful outcomes.”
2. He Was Born in South Korea, Grew Up in Los Angeles & Became a U.S. Citizen in 1980
Sung Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1960. His father was a South Korean diplomat who was stationed in Japan. According to Hankyoreh, Sung Kim’s father was abducted in 1958 by an armed North Korean assailant while on a Korea National Airlines flight to Busan. He was returned to South Korea three weeks later. After his father’s assignment in Japan, the family moved to the United States and settled in Los Angeles, California.
Sung Kim became a U.S. citizen in 1980.
According to his State Department biography, Sung Kim completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania and then graduated from Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles. He also earned a master’s of law at the London School of Economics.
3. John Kerry Called Sung Kim the ‘George Clooney of the Foreign Service’
When Sung Kim was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines in November 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Over the years, Sung has won just about every honor that the State Department gives, and many of them he has won more than once. He has earned a reputation for sound judgment, for hard work, for great intelligence, and for deep humility. And the humility part is particularly impressive folks, given that he has also been called the George Clooney of the Foreign Service.”
Kerry added, “At the risk of giving him a swelled head, I will add that no one is better at getting to the heart of an issue or establishing commonsense priorities. And no one, frankly, has steadier nerves when faced with a difficult situation. It has even been said of him: I don’t know how he does it; he goes into difficult meeting after difficult meeting, looking as if he had just gotten out of the lotus position.”
Prior to the Philippines assignment, Sung Kim was the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea from 2011 to 2014. He was the first Korean-American to serve as the ambassador to South Korea. “Mr. Kim has extensive East Asia regional experience, including service as U.S. Ambassador to Korea from 2011 to 2014. His outstanding managerial skills, open interpersonal style, and ability to work well with numerous U.S. Government agencies on sensitive and complex policy issues and priorities, makes him well qualified to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines,” the State Department’s website says.
“Previously, Mr. Kim served as Special Envoy for the Six Party Talks at the U.S. Department of State (2008-2011), and as the Director of the Office of Korean Affairs in the Department’s Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs (2006-2008),” the state department says. “Prior to that, he served as Political-Military Unit Chief at U.S. Embassy Seoul, Korea (2002-2006), Political Officer at U.S. Embassy Tokyo, Japan (1999-2002), and as Political-Military Officer in the Office of Chinese Affairs in the Department’s Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs (1997-1999). He also served as Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1994-1997), Staff Assistant in the Department of State’s Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs (1992-1993), Economic Officer at U.S. Embassy Seoul, Korea (1990-1992), and Vice Consul at U.S. Consulate Hong Kong (1988-1990).”
4. He Was the U.S. Special Envoy to the Six-Party Talks From 2008 to 2011
Sung Kim was the U.S. Special Envoy to the six-party nuclear talks from 2008 to 2011, and has extensive experience dealing with negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program.
“He has, as everybody here knows, tackled some really tough, complex challenges over a period of time. He has even done battle with radioactive nuclear material. When he was our special envoy to the Six-Party Talks, he conducted a very thorough and careful inspection of the North Korean nuclear facility, only to find afterwards that his footwear had become contaminated,” John Kerry said in 2016. “And his biggest regret was not that he was exposed to anything; it was that he had only one pair of Ferragamos to give for his country.”
Sung Kim’s counterpart in North Korea, Choe Son Hui, was also part of the six party talks, according to The Washington Post. She was part of the delegation for several years and the two know each other well, the newspaper reports.
5. Sung Kim, Who Worked as a Prosecutor in Los Angeles County Before Joining the Foreign Service, Is Married & Has 2 Daughters
Sung Kim worked as a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office prior to joining the Foreign Service, according to the State Department website.
“Iwas attracted to the opportunity to represent the United States abroad and work on America’s foreign policy priorities and important foreign relations. This is a tremendous privilege and I think perhaps even more special for an immigrant like myself. I’ve had some difficult challenges in my diplomatic career but never once regretted my decision to join the Foreign Service. It has been a fascinating and rewarding adventure; there is great gratification in working on issues and relations of consequence,” he told The Politic in 2013. “Prosecution and diplomacy may seem incompatible but when I crossed over from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to the State Department, for me there was one constant — commitment to public service. Young Koreans and Americans often ask for career advice, and I always encourage them to explore different opportunities in public service including diplomacy.”
Kim is married to Jae Eun Chung and has two daughters, Erin and Erica. “My wife grew up in Seoul and has strong ties here,” he wrote in 2012 after becoming the ambassador to Korea. “She is really looking forward to catching up with her parents, family and friends.”