U.S. point man on East Asia vows nuke-free Korean Peninsula drive

WASHINGTON, June 20 (Yonhap) -- Daniel Russel, the nominee to become the United States' point man on East Asia, said Thursday he will actively pursue "the verifiable denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula.

"North Korea presents, through its nuclear and missile programs, a serious threat to the U.S., to our allies and to the global non-proliferation regime," Russel said during a confirmation hearing by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

"If confirmed, I will actively pursue the verifiable denuclerization of the Korean Peninsula and work to block North Korea's efforts to proliferate and to blackmail its neighbors," he added.

Last month, President Barack Obama nominated Russel, senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council, as the new assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs to replace Kurt Campbell who left the position in February.

Stressing his knowledge about broad North Korean issues and people in the leadership with decades of experiences, Russel said he will strive "to accelerate the achievement of denuclearization to actually help bring about the elimination of its nuclear program."

Russel also expressed concerns about the plight of the North Korean people and those who have managed "to escape from the tyranny," calling Pyongyang's rights abuses and nuclear ambitions "two sides of the same coin."

"North Korea is choosing not to feed its people. North Korea is prioritizing, frankly, a useless pursuit of military capability against an imaginary threat at the expense of growth and economic development," Russel said.

Speaking of President Park Geun-hye's recent proposal of a multilateral forum in Northeast Asia, Russel said it is "worth looking into and thinking about quite carefully" in order to tackle "softer" issues first to address regional security challenges.

Park put forth the so-called Northeast Asia peace and cooperation initiative, a vision that calls for countries in Northeast Asia and the U.S. to build trust first through non-political cooperation before expanding cooperation to political and security matters.

As for the ongoing territorial disputes in which China is engaged with its neighbors, including Japan, Russel vowed efforts "to lower the temperature, push players including China into a diplomatic track and continue to warn them that the region in which China will flourish is a region of law, order and respect for neighbors, not one which is based on coercion and bullying."

Russel is known to understand well the importance of inter-Korean relations and historical issues among Northeast Asian countries.

He has been in charge of the Obama administration's rebalancing policies toward Asia. He also handled preparations for the summit talks between Obama and the South Korean chief executive.

Russel joined the Foreign Service in 1985 and has since handled mostly Asia-related issues, taking such posts as the director of the Office of Japanese Affairs at the Department of State and the director for Japan, South Korea and North Korea at the NSC from 2009 to 2011.

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