The United States Special Envoy for North Korean human rights issues Robert King is set to retire after over seven years in the job, a State Department source confirmed to NK News on Thursday.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said King’s retirement was “imminent” and that, as yet, there was no information about his successor.
Robert King was appointed by President Barack Obama to oversee U.S. State Department work related to human rights in North Korea in November 2009, and during his tenure was involved in numerous attempts to free Americans imprisoned in the DPRK.
The ambassador visited Pyongyang in May 2011 as part of a trip to assess the country’s food aid needs, but also to secure the release of American Eddie Jun, who had been held in the country for six months on unspecified charges. It was the first visit to the DPRK by a U.S. official in two years.
In August 2013 he was set to visit Pyongyang again to negotiate the release of jailed American missionary Kenneth Bae, an invitation that was swiftly revoked – the second planned visit that year to be canceled.
King was a firm proponent of sanctions against Pyongyang for its human rights abuses, telling South Korea’s Joongang Daily in October that “those who are responsible for those human rights abuses should be held to account.”
He was also a longtime advocate of improving information access for North Koreans, supporting the work of Radio Free Asia and efforts to get South Korean media into the country.
Prior to his assignment by Obama, King worked for Tom Lantos, a sponsor of the North Korean Human Rights Act and chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and prepped Lantos for two high-level visits to Pyongyang.
Tributes to the Ambassador’s longtime work and experience on North Korean human rights issues have already started to come in.
The Twitter account of the DPRK-focused social entrepreneurship NGO Choson Exchange was one of the first to break the news.
US Ambassador for #NorthKorea Human Rights Robert King will be retiring. Long-time hand leaves. Hope the US does not lose his experience
— Choson Exchange (@chosonexchange) January 5, 2017