In Thinking About Steve Bosworth

I had the privilege of working with Steve in 1995-1997 when he was executive director and I was general counsel of KEDO. In the 20 years since then, I doubt a day has gone by without my being influenced, consciously or not, by what I learned from Steve about leadership, negotiation and friendship. Steve was an extremely modest man and I am quite confident he never wanted or expected to be emulated—which is all the more reason why so many of us who worked side-by-side with him do aspire to emulate him.

Ambassador Stephen Bosworth gives opening remarks at the 20th Anniversary of the Agreed Framework conference hosted by the US-Korea Institute at SAIS (October 20, 2014).
Ambassador Stephen Bosworth gives opening remarks at the 20th Anniversary of the Agreed Framework conference hosted by the US-Korea Institute at SAIS (October 20, 2014).

Steve was a giant, both physically and intellectually, but never intimidating. In fact, when I think about him, even now after his way-too-early death, I cannot suppress a smile. That is because he was so often (but, beware, not always) smiling: happily, ironically, wryly, conspiringly, thoughtfully-to-himself. His humor was as much a part of his deservedly lauded diplomatic skills as his intelligence, wisdom and experience.

So, when humor went missing, things were genuinely serious. There was no play-acting, no false negotiating drama, with Steve.

An example: I vividly recall drawn-out negotiations in Brussels in late 1996 among the KEDO member states—the US, South Korea and Japan—concerning the terms of EU accession. Of course all negotiations between our member delegations were drawn-out, but these were particularly so. We must have been on the third trip and the third round in a month, with Christmas approaching. Our job was to listen, listen, steer a bit, listen, which required the patience of angels. But Steve finally reached his limit and there was no mistaking it. He slowly stood up from the table and, from his full height, said in the briefest terms: “My role as KEDO executive director is to negotiate from a KEDO consensus position. You have no consensus. I cannot create consensus. There is nothing more for me to do here.” He left. Stunned silence. As I recall, the negotiations concluded successfully that afternoon.

Steve and I often laughed not about those negotiations, but about our trip home the next day. We agreed—for the last time—that we were too sick of each other to sit together and fall back into KEDO policy (or staffing) discussions. So I had to cope with my seatmate’s toddler and Steve had to cope with a seatmate so drunk that he kept falling into Steve’s lap. Steve smiled—ruefully this time—and signaled “Well, it cannot get worse”—just when James Brown appeared in our cabin singing Christmas carols with a bevy of back-up dancers. All in a day’s work with Steve at KEDO.

Like many of you, I took note of the irony of the DPRK announcing a hydrogen bomb test almost contemporaneously with Steve’s death—just when, we all thought, the US and the world could so use his unmatched diplomatic skills, knowledge of the North, and measured patience.

That was his public role. I will miss the personal Steve even more.

Lucy Reed was General Counsel of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) from 1995 to 1998, in which capacity she frequently led KEDO teams negotiating with the DPRK. 

See other memorial essays about Amb. Stephen Bosworth here.

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