Kevin Veal has been on a mission to save the world.
The Biloxi native was among the team of negotiators who faced down Iran in Switzerland this week and just may have ensured the world will have one less troublesome member in its nuclear club.
“KDV is headed there in a motorcade,” his wife, Lee, said in a text Thursday afternoon as news of a deal broke.
A half-hour or so later, President Barack Obama was on television talking about the deal.
“I am convinced if this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, our world safer,” Obama said.
Veal, a nuclear physicist, is director of the Office of International Nuclear Safeguards and Security at the Department of Energy. He was responsible for vetting the technical details of any offers.
“Mr. Veal is one of those who will need to be persuaded the deep detail of any eventual agreement is robust enough for him to commend it to his political masters,” the BBC reported last week.
It was familiar territory for a scientist often involved in work so secret he has yet to reveal much of it even to his family.
He helped rid the world of Libya’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.
“You’ll want to read those articles,” he told his father, David, when news of the Libya mission broke. It was the first inkling the elder Veal had of his son’s role.
Kevin Veal went 10 times into North Korea in an effort to persuade the rogue state to give up its nuclear ambitions.
“He was the next-to-the-last person to leave North Korea when they asked us to leave,” David Veal said. “Most of the time, he was at the reactor sites.”
He could have been an astronomer, something his wife said interests him greatly. Before he could pursue that interest, though, Los Alamos made him an offer. Lee Veal said it was equal parts opportunity and idealism that led him to accept.
“It is lonesome,” she said of the times he is away. “Sad at times. But I’m glad he’s doing it. Someone needs to do it. I’m glad it’s him. The free world is depending on it.”
Mutual friends from the science community brought the pair together when both were invited to a terrace bar atop what was then the Hotel Washington, now the W.
A year or so later, he proposed at the same spot. They married in 2006.
“He’s smart. Clever,” said Lee Veal, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Center for Radiological Emergency Management. “Obviously, I like him.”
She went with him to Los Alamos, but Lee Veal said she persuaded her husband to come back to D.C.
“He was gone quite a lot,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we moved back. It was too much travel for both of us. I was working. He was working. He was gone. I was gone.”
Many of those trips were to North Korea, which was worrisome to both his wife and father, who lives in Biloxi and is executive director of the American Shrimp Processors Association.
If Kevin Veal felt he were in danger, though, he didn’t tell anyone.
“He never expressed that to me,” David Veal said. “I expressed that to him. I probably worried more about him on the flights from China. I think they flew on a North Korean plane.”
Lausanne, Switzerland, isn’t foreboding, but there isn’t time to enjoy it, either.
“They don’t leave the room,” Lee Veal said. “It could be anywhere. It’s lovely but I don’t think he gets to see much.
“Every now and then they’ll have a dinner out. But I think most of the time it’s room service or whatever is brought to the room. You work and sleep and work and sleep. I know this time he’s working very long hours.”
He still tries to get home regularly. The Veal family has a reunion every July. She said he has probably missed only one and that was because of his job.
“I think he liked growing up in Biloxi,” she said. “He and his father have a special relationship. He admires his dad quite a lot and it’s mutual.”