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Kathleen Stephens

President & CEO
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About Kathleen Stephens

Ambassador (ret) Kathleen Stephens assumed leadership of KEI as President and CEO in September 2018. Ambassador Stephens was a career diplomat in the United States Foreign Service, 1978-2015. She was the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea 2008-2011, the first woman and first Korean speaker to serve in that position. Other overseas assignments included postings to China, former Yugoslavia, Portugal, Northern Ireland, where she was U.S. Consul General in Belfast during the negotiations culminating in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and India, where she was U.S. Charge ‘d Affaires (2014-2015).

Ambassador Stephens served in a number of policy positions in Washington at the Department of State and the White House. These included acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (2012), Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (2005-2007), Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (2003-2005), and National Security Council Director for European Affairs at the Clinton White House.

Korea has been a leit motif of Ambassador Stephens’ life and career since she served in rural Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer and trainer, 1975-1977. She was in Korea 1983-1989, first as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul reporting on Korea’s domestic political and human rights scene, and later leading the U.S. Consulate in Busan.

Stephens was William J. Perry Fellow for Korea at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center, 2015-2018. She has also been Endowed Chair Professor for Language and Diplomacy at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, and Senior State Department Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. She chairs the board of The Korea Society and is Vice-chair of the Board of Trustees of The Asia Foundation. She is a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ambassador Stephens has received U.S. government awards including the Presidential Meritorious Service Award (2009) and Linguist of the Year (2010). She has received numerous awards related to her work in Korea, including the Kwanghwa Medal of Diplomatic Merit, the Sejong Cultural Award, the Korean-American Friendship Association Award, the Kevin O-Donnell Distinguished Friend of Korea, AmCham Korea’s Outstanding Achievement Award, and the First Baek Bum Kim Koo Award (2022).  In earlier years, she was named Hangul Goodwill Ambassador and Korea National Museum Goodwill Ambassador. She is an honorary citizen of Jeju Province.  She holds honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Maryland and Chungnam National University.

Stephens was an undergraduate at Prescott College, the University of Hong Kong, and Oxford University, and holds a BA Honors from Prescott. She holds a Master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School.


On January 27, the South Korean government in concert with private biotech companies went into overdrive to produce effective testing kits for the coronavirus. There were at the time 4…

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March 20, 2020

KEI President Ambassador Kathleen Stephens was featured on Arirang’s The Globalists. Watch the video below to learn about her personal connection with Korea and her take on current U.S.-Korea relations.…

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December 19, 2022

On September 2, KEI President and CEO Kathleen Stephens penned a column for the JoongAng Daily that drew attention to South Korea’s evolution as a middle power during the U.S.…

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September 9, 2021

KEI President and CEO Kathleen Stephens gave remarks at an event hosted by the Southeast United States Korean Chamber of Commerce at the Kia Motors plant in West Point, GA.…

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February 11, 2020

Writing for a series by Chosun Ilbo on meaninful Korean words, Ambassador Stephens chose the word ___, which roughly translates to "diligent" in English. In the article, she looked back on…

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February 10, 2020

By Kathleen Stephens The second summit between President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un ended without an agreement. But the engagement provided insights into the negotiating positions and styles of both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. KEI will continue to assess the implications of the Hanoi outcome. Here are some initial observations that we…

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Region: Asia

February 28, 2019

By Kathleen Stephens Like many others, I have been inspired in recent days by the many remembrances of President George H.W. Bush, and his eventful and admirable presidency. Coverage of his foreign policy legacy unsurprisingly focuses on the dramatic late-Cold War scene in Europe, which culminated in the break-up of the Soviet Union and the reunification…

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Region: Asia

December 6, 2018