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Kathleen Stephens

President & CEO
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About Kathleen Stephens

Ambassador (retired) 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 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 is a Mansfield Foundation Distinguished Fellow, Pacific Century Institute Board Chairman, Vice-chair of the Board of Trustees of The Asia Foundation, and on the board of The Korea Society. 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 holds the Kwanghwa Medal of Diplomatic Merit, the Sejong Cultural Award, the Korean-American Friendship Association Award, the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, the Korea YWCA Special Prize for Leadership, and was Hangul Goodwill Ambassador as well as Korea National Museum Goodwill Ambassador. She holds honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Maryland and Chungnam National University.

Stephens was an undergraduate at Prescott College, 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 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

Reflecting on tensions between Korea and the United States in her latest column for the Joongang Ilbo, KEI CEO and President Kathleen Stephens agreed that there are many reasons to…

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December 10, 2019

In her most recent op-ed for the Joongang Ilbo, KEI President and CEO Kathleen Stephens wrote on the role that public servants are playing to preserve democratic institutions in the…

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December 10, 2019

Join KEI and Asia Foundation for a discussion on North Korean refugee entrepreneurs and their experiences and challenges.

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Region: Asia
Topic: Inter-Korean, Human Rights, South Korea

January 21, 2021

Please join Robert Zoellick and other speakers for a discussion on the global economic environment that the Biden administration will face.

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Region: Asia, North America

December 4, 2020

Please join us for a panel discussion with Peace Corp-Korea volunteers on their experience with the pro-democracy movement in Gwangju, authoritarianism, and the country’s evolution after the Korean War.

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November 19, 2020
Kathleen Stephens, Yong Kwon, Clark Sorensen, Don Baker, Laurel Kendall, Edward Shultz

Join Ambassador Cho Hyun and KEI President Kathleen Stephens for a conversation about Korea and the United Nations, reflecting on the UN’s important history and continuing role in divided Korea, including the challenges of nuclear proliferation and humanitarian need, current prospects and priorities for multilateral diplomacy, and for South Korea and other middle powers in a period of global crisis and uncertainty.

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November 9, 2020
Kathleen Stephens, Cho Hyun

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
Location: Japan

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
Location: Korea, South

December 6, 2018