On Thursday, a respected US foreign policy veteran, Stephen Biegun was appointed as the State Department number two, a role that could become even more key in the coming months. He is already a respected US foreign policy veteran in the difficult job of leading diplomacy with North Korea.
The announcement was made by President Donald Trump to replace Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who has been tapped to be ambassador to Russia. After the nomination, there is speculation that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will run for Senate next year in Kansas that indicates Biegun could become the acting top US diplomat, at least briefly.
Biegun’s nomination requires Senate confirmation. A US official stated that he will remain as the special representative on North Korea, a job he took year after Trump’s historic first summit with leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korean officials initially gave a cold shoulder to Biegun. According to the officials, the leaders of the country were negotiating directly about Pyongyang’s nuclear program and saw little reason to deal with an envoy on anything other than the logistics of meetings.
In early October, Biegun enjoyed a breakthrough of sorts when he met North Korea’s lead negotiator Kim Myong Gil in Sweden. Blaming the US attitude, North Korea denied having any discussion but the US issued a statement saying Biegun never planned to resolve all issues in a day that the two sides would meet again.
During deep polarization in Washington, the 56-year-old Biegun has won respect across party lines and in foreign capitals for his affability and for offering apt analysis rather than ideological lectures.
A lifelong Republican, Biegujn spent his career in behind-the-scenes roles in Congress and in former president George W. Bush’s administration, where he served in senior staff positions at the White House and State Department.
Stephen Biegun recalled during an interview with an alumni publication at the University of Michigan that he became fascinated by Russia when a high school history teacher wrote “tsar” in Cyrillic script.
“It was one of the most exotic things I’d ever seen. It left such an impression on me that I went to the town library and checked out a book to teach myself Russian,” he said.