The new head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service is credited with having helped arrange two summits between the Koreas in the 2000s — and was involved in a plan to build Pyongyang a nuclear reactor. Suh Hoon worked at the spy agency for 28 years until leaving in 2008 — when a conservative government was elected — to move to academia.
Now he returns as head of the organisation under new President Moon Jae-In, who has declared his willingness to engage Pyongyang. “It is too premature to talk about a next inter-Korean summit,” Suh told journalists after Moon announced his appointment. “But we need it.”
The first-ever summit between South and North Korea was held in 2000 and the second in 2007. The 63-year-old spent two years in the North during the 1990s when an international consortium was building two lightwater civilian reactors in Sinpo under an agreement with the US for Pyongyang to freeze — and ultimately dismantle — its weapons programmes. The deal collapsed in the face of mutual distrust.
Suh, who studied at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and earned a doctorate on North Korean affairs at Dongguk University in Seoul, has been teaching at the prestigious Ehwa University in Seoul. Moon tasking him with reforming the spy organisation “to prevent it from interfering with domestic politics and be reborn as a pure intelligence agency”.