The Cable

Big changes coming to Obama's Asia team

By Josh Rogin
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 8:13 PM

Several senior Obama administration Asia officials are scheduled to either leave government or move to new jobs within the bureaucracy in the coming months, as the White House tries to hit the reset button on U.S.-China relations.

The two top Obama administration officials responsible for driving Asia policy have been Jeffrey Bader, the National Security Council's senior director for Asia, and Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. Although Campbell is generally seen as more hawkish on China than Bader, the two close friends have worked together from day one.

But sometime after Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington this month, Bader will leave his post at the NSC, several administration insiders confirmed to the Cable. The exact date of Bader's departure is not set and could still be weeks or months from now.

Bader, who has been working on China since the 1970s (and was once an assistant to Assistant Secretary of State for Asia Richard Holbrooke), is rumored to be looking for the exit because of the understandable fatigue caused by working a job that has basically required a 24/7 commitment for almost two years.

The leading candidate to replace Bader, according to several administration sources, is the NSC's Daniel Russel, one of the directors who works under Bader. Russel is a Japan hand, having served as the head of State's Japan Desk after being consul general in the Japanese cities of Osaka and Kobe.

Russel's selection might give Japan watchers hope that the White House would reinvigorate the stagnant U.S.-Japan relationship, but the likelihood is that China will continue to dominate the administration's Asia agenda.

Meanwhile, back at State, there are other moves in the works. Campbell's principal deputy, Joe Donovan, is being considered for several ambassadorships, including as the next envoy to South Korea. If the White House decides to give that post to a political appointee, then Donovan would probably be offered the ambassadorship of Cambodia, multiple administration sources confirmed.

The White House announced last month that David Shear, another deputy in Campbell's EAP bureau, will be appointed ambassador to Vietnam. So that leaves two open DAS slots at EAP for Campbell to fill.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg has been rumored to be leaving State for a long time but still remains at his post and is very active on Asia policy. Our sources report that Steinberg had originally told the White House he would stay for only two years but that he has not yet found the right job to justify him leaving State.

Kerry to spend week in Sudan

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, arrived in Sudan on Tuesday, where he will spend the week in the lead-up to the long-awaited referendum Sunday that could lead to Southern Sudan's emergence as an independent country.

"Sudan is at a pivotal moment," Kerry said in a statement. "The United States played an important role in ending the civil war in Sudan and making the vote this Sunday possible. Our commitment to the Sudanese people will extend beyond the referendum, whatever its outcome, as we work to improve economic and humanitarian conditions in the region."

This is Kerry's fourth trip to Sudan since first traveling there in April 2009. He met with senior leaders from the north and the south during his last trip in October.

Meanwhile, the administration's Sudan team is working furiously to help set the conditions for a free and fair election and to ensure that the outcome will be honored by both sides. The administration team, led by special envoy Scott Gration and Ambassador Princeton Lyman, is involved in every aspect of the process. Also, teams from the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization are spread across Southern Sudan as part of the preparation and monitoring effort.

Names: Countryman for ISN assistant secretary

Tom Countryman, a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, has been selected to fill the vacant post of assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, multiple administration sources confirmed to the Cable.

Countryman's pending nomination, which is going through the final stages of State Department and White House approval, fills a void in the office of arms control and international security, led by Undersecretary Ellen Tauscher. The vacancy at the top of the ISN bureau has hampered Tauscher's plan to reorganize the State Department's arms control bureaucracy.

"The ISN bureau has been languishing for the last two years," said one State Department source. "Getting a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary in place will go a long ways toward restoring morale and elevating this bureau's profile within the department."

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