Top Asia diplomat at State Department heads for exit

Mr Daniel Russel says he has not been asked to leave, adding that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can still rely on a great team of Asia specialists.
Mr Daniel Russel says he has not been asked to leave, adding that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can still rely on a great team of Asia specialists.PHOTO: MELISSA SIM

Assistant Secretary of State Russel joins wave of departures after Trump is elected

WASHINGTON • Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, the top diplomat for East Asian and Pacific issues at the US State Department, is leaving to take a fellowship in New York, the latest senior official to leave the agency since President Donald Trump took office.

Mr Russel said he was taking up a year-long fellowship at the Asia Society and will remain a foreign service officer. He added that after more than three years in the position, he was ready for the next challenge and was not asked to leave.

"I've assembled a team in our front office with some of the great Asia specialists from the department," he said on Thursday.

"The bureau itself is very, very solid. The secretary will be well-served until the new person gets there."

The State Department has seen a wave of departures since Mr Trump was elected, leaving a gap at senior levels under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

As is tradition, all political appointees had tendered their resignations as of Jan 20.

However, many - who had expected to stay on until replacements had been named - were asked to leave instead.

The departures have been particularly numerous at the most senior level. Mr Tillerson is not expected to fill the job of deputy secretary for management and resources, previously held by Ms Heather Higginbottom.

He has begun construction of a cubicle farm in her former office on the department's seventh floor.

Counsellor Kristie Kenney, one of the most senior foreign service officers in the US diplomatic corps, was also asked to leave.

So, too, were Mr Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary for management, and several people who served under him.

Mr Russel was one of the few holdovers, accompanying Mr Tillerson on a recent trip to Germany for meetings with top Japanese, South Korean and Chinese officials.

He has also briefed Mr Tillerson several times, unlike many staff members at the department who have complained that they have been unable to penetrate Mr Tillerson's inner circle.

A second regional assistant secretary, Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who oversees African affairs,  is also departing for a position at Georgetown University.

"I know that there's a lot of fodder for stories about people walking off in a huff and 'I'm getting out of here' - and I didn't want what was a deliberate and responsible and utterly normal transition to get mixed up with those stories," Mr Russel said.

"I'm also leaving with a tremendous sense of pride about where I think the US is in its relations with Asia and what we've accomplished and what I see the new administration is building on," he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Top Asia diplomat at State Department heads for exit'. Print Edition | Subscribe