Ford exec named special representative to N. Korea

Nora Naughton Keith Laing
The Detroit News
Steve Biegun looks on as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces him as special representative to North Korea at the State Department in Washington, DC, on August 23, 2018.

Washington — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has tapped Steve Biegun, Ford Motor Co.'s vice president of international government affairs, to serve as a special representative who will be in charge of the Trump administration's efforts to ensure denuclearization of North Korea. 

Pompeo said Thursday that Biegun, who worked in national security circles in Washington, D.C., prior to joining Ford, will direct U.S. policy toward North Korea and lead efforts to achieve verified denuclearization of North Korea.

Biegun is the second top lobbyist to leave Ford in recent months. Ziad "Z" Ojakli, the automaker's Ford's group vice president for government and community relations, left the automaker in July to join SoftBank Group, the Japanese technology conglomerate. He assumes a similar position at SoftBank's Washington offices.

The exit of the Ford executives come as automakers try to influence the policymaking of several issues, including tariffs on U.S. automotive imports, autonomous vehicle regulations and fuel-economy rules.

Pompeo announced appointment of Biegun in brief remarks at the State Department's headquarters.

"As the special representative, Steve will lead negotiations and spearhead diplomatic efforts with our allies and partners," Pompeo said.

He pointed to Biegen's experience at Ford: "In this job, he closely engaged foreign governments to advance Ford’s goals around the world. He will now apply that same skill and dedication on behalf to the American people to make sure that their interests are well served in respect to North Korea." 

Pompeo noted that Biegun was national security advisor to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, prior to joining Ford. Biegun also was the executive secretary at the National Security Council under former President George W. Bush and the chief of staff as Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also served as the resident director in the Russian Federation for the International Republican Institute. 

The departing Ford executive said Thursday he is eager to tackle the diplomatic challenges that are ahead of him.

"I fully understand the importance of this job," Biegun said after Pompeo's introduction. "The issues are tough, and they will be tough to resolve, but the president has created an opening and it’s one that we must take by seizing every possible opportunity to realize the vision for a peaceful future for the people of North Korea." 

His departure and another retirement at Ford led to the appointment of new leaders for the automaker in manufacturing and government affairs.

Biegun's role will be replaced with two positions. Curt Magleby, currently Ford's vice president of U.S. government relations, will lead Ford's government and community relations. Michael Sheridan, who most recently led Ford's global trade strategy, will lead Ford's international government affairs.

Bruce Hettle, Ford's group vice president of manufacturing and labor affairs, will retire Oct. 1. He will be replaced by Gary Johnson, who is currently Ford's vice president for North America manufacturing.

The shuffles were announced by Ford on Thursday.

Twitter: @Keith_Laing