Obama names former Osaka consul general as top U.S. diplomat in Asia

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

President Barack Obama on Wednesday named Daniel Russel, a close aide with expertise on Japan, as the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia.

The Senate will need to confirm Russel as the assistant secretary of state for East Asia. Obama, announcing Russel and other nominees, praised them for their “depth of experience and tremendous dedication” to their work.

Russel has served since 2011 as the White House’s senior director on Asian affairs, helping flesh out the Obama administration’s “pivot” policy of putting a higher priority on Asia.

His nomination is likely to be welcomed in Japan as indicating the nation will remain high on the U.S. priority list.

While involved on issues throughout Asia, the career diplomat has spent considerable time in Japan. He has served as head of the State Department’s Office of Japanese Affairs and as consul general in Osaka and Kobe, as well as director for Japan, South Korea and North Korea on the National Security Council.

Russel is considered more soft-spoken than his predecessor, Kurt Campbell, known for his high-octane style and punishing travel schedule.

The White House has said Obama will maintain a strong interest in Asia in his second term, but Secretary of State John Kerry has put an emphasis on the Middle East in his early travel.

Critics have questioned the long gap in naming Campbell’s successor, with no permanent assistant secretary in place during visits by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye, and amid trouble with North Korea.