Amid Pentagon reshuffle, Lippert still big shot on Asia policy

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 (Yonhap) -- The reshuffle of top Pentagon officials is in full swing, nearly nine months after Chuck Hagel's inauguration as secretary of defense.

As several key players on Korea and other major issues are leaving the department, the role and authority of Mark Lippert, chief of staff to Hagel, is expected to grow, diplomatic sources here say.

"He is effectively playing a bridging role between President Barack Obama and Hagel, who was a Republican senator," an informed source told Yonhap News Agency on the condition of anonymity.

Lippert could have a bigger say in the Pentagon's decision-making especially on Korea and other Asian affairs, added the source.

Lippert is well known to be one of Obama's closest aides, having worked as foreign policy advisor when the president was senator and taken part in crafting the strategy of re-balancing toward Asia.

He served as assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs and chief of staff for the White House National Security Council.

The Pentagon job held by Lippert remains vacant. Some predict Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, may step down in the near future.

But David Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, is expected to stay in office for working-level affairs on Korea, Japan and China, another source said.

"The specific picture of Hagel's new Asia line-up remains to be seen. For the time being, Lippert is likely to play as a de-facto control tower of the Pentagon's Asia policy, which heralds no radical changes in it," the source said.

Last week, local media learned James Miller, under secretary of defense for policy, is resigning in January. His plan has been confirmed by Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, who is stepping down himself this week to spend more time with his family.

Miller has been in charge of the Obama administration's major defense policy issues including missile defense cooperation with South Korea and Japan.

Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, has been also nominated to become the deputy head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. She has handled work to counter weapons of mass destruction including North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.

Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter, who has handled day-to-day operations of the Pentagon, is preparing to leave the post in December.

Such a string of high-level departures at the department apparently reflects that Hagel has been settled into his new position and ready to create his own team.

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