On Feb. 25, former U.S. Ambassador to North Korea Joseph Yun visited Lewis & Clark as part of the second annual Ambassador Edward J. Perkins Distinguished Speaker Series. The program was established by LC’s current Diplomat in Residence, Niels Marquardt ’75, in July of 2020.
A number of senior diplomats, former ambassadors, United Nations representatives and LC faculty and staff were present at the lecture. The evening began with opening remarks by both Marquardt and current President Wim Wiewel.
Yun began his career in the world of finance, working for an economic consulting company. His main job was to analyze and forecast economic trends. The monotony of the job eventually encouraged him to change career paths.
“I said…there’s got to be a better way to make a living,” Yun said. “I’ve always wanted to work overseas, (and was) interested in international relations.”
In 1985, Yun formally joined the foreign service as a visa officer in the U.S. State Department in Hong Kong. He remained there for two years.
Throughout his 33-year career, Yun specialized in the region of Asia, spearheading a number of historic events. Under former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, Yun historically led the efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Myanmar. The U.S. had formally cut ties after a military coup took place in 1988.
In 2016, at the tail end of Obama’s final term, Yun was selected to serve as the ambassador to North Korea due to his extensive experience in the Korean peninsula, in addition to his mastery of several foreign languages, including Korean.
The diplomat accepted the position because he believed he would be serving under Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I thought in taking up the position, that I would have good access to the president, who would be Hillary Clinton,” Yun said.
The Obama administration had practiced strategic patience, which increased the difficulty of Yun’s job. In 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th president of the U.S. Despite this, Yun was hesitant to leave his post. He believed that he could utilize his position to help improve U.S. relations with North Korea
Under Trump’s tumultuous leadership, Yun strived to ensure a line of communication between North Korea and Washington D.C. remained open, and negotiated the release of U.S. citizens detained in North Korea.
“I’m generally happy with what I did in the foreign service and the kind of assignments I’ve had,” Yun said. “I was fortunate… to have assignments in places I wanted to be.”
At the conclusion of the lecture, Assistant Professor of International Affairs Suparna Chaudhry moderated a question and answer session with Yun. The ambassador’s appearance at LC coincided with Russia’s official invasion of Ukraine. As such, a number of attendees asked questions regarding a diplomat’s perspective on whether nations should consider denuclearizing.
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