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US envoy to North Korea favored as next ambassador to Russia

U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrives at Incheon International Airport on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 in Incheon, South Korea. Biegun is on a visit to South Korea for a working-level meeting between U.S. and North Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. envoy to North Korea Stephen Biegun is President Donald Trump’s likely choice to be the next ambassador to Russia, Vox News and Reuters reported, citing sources familiar with the matter inside the White House.

The current ambassador is former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who will leave Moscow on October 3 amid reports that he will run for governor again.

He has served in Russia since October 2017.

Biegun is known as an expert on Russia, having spent time on ex-President George W. Bush’s National Security Council and as a top congressional aide on national-security issues.

Biegun didn’t address the Vox News report, which was published first, and the State Department told Reuters that it didn’t have “administrative” announcements to make.

The 56-year-old former Ford Motor Company executive studied political science and the Russian language at the University of Michigan. Biegun headed the International Republican Institute in Moscow in 1992-1994 and was a board member of the U.S.-Russia Foundation for Economic Development and the Rule of Law.

U.S.-Russia relations are in a cycle of tension that started in 2014 when Moscow invaded and subsequently annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, resulting in the imposition of sanctions.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential elections and will do so again in 2020. An arms race is potentially looming given that both countries withdrew from an important nuclear arms treaty that dates back to 1987. Moscow has started to accuse the U.S. of encouraging protests that have sparked in recent weeks over free and fair elections.

As the special representative to North Korea, Biegun has struggled to reset negotiations on denuclearization after Trump met with the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, in June when both agreed to start working-level talks.

If appointed, Biegun must receive confirmation from the Senate.