Over the past year North Korean nuclear technology and delivery capabilities have advanced exponentially, until they are now believed to be within striking range of anywhere in the United States. The US administration has sought to counter this threat with a policy of maximum pressure combined with engagement—both options attracting fierce misgivings across the political spectrum. How did we get here? And what is the best way to reduce tension and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons?
Ambassador Joseph Yun, the recently retired U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy, will discuss the diplomatic challenges in dealing with North Korea, focusing on denuclearization, its scope and likelihood. Yun will also sketch out the current state of US relations in the region and share his views on how the leading regional players—South Korea, Japan, China and Russia—view North Korea.
Ambassador Yun is recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts on relations with North Korea, as well as on broader US-East Asian policy. His 33-year diplomatic career has been marked by his commitment to face-to-face engagement as the best avenue for resolving conflict and advancing cross-border cooperation. As Special Envoy on North Korea from 2016 to 2018, he led the State Department’s efforts to align regional powers behind a united policy to denuclearize North Korea. He was instrumental in reopening the “New York channel,” a direct communication line with officials from Pyongyang, through which he was able to secure the release of the American student, Otto Warmbier, who had been held in captivity for 15 months.
From 2013 to 2016 he served as US Ambassador to Malaysia, actively forwarding the administration’s goal of elevating relations with Southeast Asia. During his tenure, Ambassador Yun hosted two visits to Malaysia by President Obama—the first by any US President since 1966—resulting in the signing of the US-Malaysian Comprehensive Partnership Agreement, pledging closer cooperation on security, trade, education, technology, energy, the environment, and people-to-people ties.
As Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (2011-2013), he helped to bring about the diplomatic normalization of American relations with Myanmar, traveling to Rangoon as the first US-based government official to meet with Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi following her release from house arrest. He also worked to lay the foundation for official participation by the President of the United States in the annual East Asian Summit, starting from 2011.
Previous assignments include Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asian Policy, Counselor for Political Affairs in the US Embassy in Seoul, Economic Counselor in the US Embassy in Bangkok, as well as earlier assignments in South Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and France. He has received a Presidential Meritorious Service Award, four Superior Honors Awards, and nine Foreign Service Performance Awards from the US State Department.
Ambassador Yun joined the Foreign Service in 1985. Prior to that he was a senior economist for Data Resources, Inc., in Lexington, Massachusetts. He holds a M. Phil. degree from the London School of Economics and a BS from the University of Wales.