Daniel R. Russel
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Tokyo, Japan
September 9, 2013

MODERATOR: It is my pleasure to introduce Assistant Secretary Danny Russel. Since time is short, and since I know you’ve all read his bios that are in front of you, we’ll just go right into what Assistant Secretary Russel would like to say.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Good, well thank you very much for joining me here today. Today is a press holiday, but I gather that doesn’t mean that you get the day off. I hope it means you got yesterday off, though.

I wanted to do a couple of things here today, if I can. First of all introduce myself in my new role, talk a little bit about the foreign policy under Secretary Kerry, and the second term, and then speak more broadly about where I think the U.S.-Japan relationship is and where I think it’s going and what I’m doing today. I want to start by saying that you haven’t seen the last of me. This is the first visit to Japan for me as Assistant Secretary of State, but you will see much more of me, and the relationship that I have with the Japanese press is an important one. I want you to be able to hear from me and also to be able to hear from you. So I look forward to working with all of you over the next four years.

By way of introduction – although I know you have all done your research – Japan is very special to me. All together I think I’ve probably lived in Japan on the order of 10 years or so. One of my children was born in Japan. I speak Japanese, although that is getting a bit rusty, I’ll admit. And I have worked on Japan issues professionally, beginning in 1985 when I joined the State Department and was assigned to be the assistant to then-Ambassador Mike Mansfield, from whom I learned a great deal.

Since then, with a few exceptions, the bulk of my career has been working on Asia. In 2009 in January, at the beginning of the Obama Administration, at a time when I was the office director for Japan at the State Department, I was brought over to the National Security Council to work on Japan issues and Korea issues, and then ultimately became the President’s special assistant for Asia. So I was present and had a role to play in the rebalancing policy as well as every meeting that President Obama had with Japanese leaders beginning with the very first foreign visitor he welcomed into the White House in February 2009, the Japanese Prime Minister Aso.

Since the President was re-elected and he named John Kerry as Secretary of State, the Secretary invited me to work for him as the Assistant Secretary for Asia. I was honored to do that. I think that my experience in Asia and my experience in Japan was a factor in that decision. I accompanied the Secretary on his first Asia trip to Tokyo back in April and was involved in the development of the important policy speech that he gave while he was here.

Over the next four years, as I said, I want to have a good relationship with the press, globally, regionally and in Japan, and I want to get a lot of important work done on the bilateral, regional, and global agenda.

In terms of policy, what I can personally attest to is that the U.S. active involvement and extensive engagement in the Asia-Pacific region – rebalancing, in other words – will continue. And there are several reasons why it will continue. One is that we have the same President in 2013 as we had in 2009 when the Obama Administration decided that Asia is a strategic priority for the United States. And the second reason is just that, mainly that our active investment and involvement in Asia, our continued presence is reflective of the U.S. broader, longer-term national interest, both as a security interest and as an economic interest.

At the beginning and today, and in the years ahead, rebalancing is built on the foundation of America’s close friendships and our close alliances. Rebalancing started with strengthening and modernizing our alliances, and that’s something that continues to be top priority. As in the past, rebalance will also include an active collaborative effort to strengthen regional security and regional stability, but we also, building on the solid foundation of the last four years, want to diversify our joint efforts to put more of a focus on economic development, including on energy, and on people-to-people exchanges and education.

It’s something that we have said many times, but it bears repeating: The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of security in the region. It’s based on our shared values and it’s based on our common goals. We are free market economies. We are liberal democracies. We benefit from and are deeply committed to the rule of law, the principle that rules should apply equally to all countries – big and small, rich and poor, weak and strong – and in addition, the U.S. and Japan are tightly knit in economic and commercial terms. We are economically co-dependent, and we benefit hugely from the extensive trade ties and commercial relationships between us.

And as I’ve said, we are treaty allies, and I think it’s evident from the progress that the U.S. and Japan have made over the past few years that this is not a paper alliance; this is a living alliance in which we cooperate and contribute hugely to the well being of both our peoples and the region.

Both President Obama and Prime Minister Abe, as recently as their meeting in St. Petersburg on Friday, have reaffirmed and demonstrated their commitment to modernizing our alliance and energizing our partnership. We are working very closely together on a raft of bilateral, global, and regional issues.

When I look at Japan and U.S. interests, regionally and worldwide, what I conclude and what my colleagues conclude is the more prosperous Japan is, the better for the United States. The more influential Japan’s voice is in the region and on the international stage, the better for the United States. And the more active and effective Japan is as a security partner, the better it is for the United States. So the bottom line is that the U.S. has no closer friend than Japan, and there is virtually no issue where the U.S. and Japan are not cooperating.

So the last point I would touch on is my current visit, my first visit here as Assistant Secretary of State. I have and will have meetings with the Foreign Ministry, with members of the Diet, with the Ministry of Defense, with the Kantei, the Prime Minister’s office, with business stakeholders, with think tank thinkers (評論家), and with you, the press. All these meetings are important for me.

In addition to introducing myself and consulting, I’m working to prepare for a range of upcoming events and upcoming meetings, including the U.N. General Assembly, including the security consultative meeting 2+2 that’s on the horizon, including APEC and the East Asia Summit. And at the same time following up on the work that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Kishida have been doing as well as what the President and the Prime Minister have done as recently as St. Petersburg.

So the message that I’m trying to convey in this visit goes beyond the specific issues of the day. I know there is a lot of news on Syria. I know there’s news and interest on North Korea and specific issues, but I’m here for a broader purpose as part of a longer term and broader strategy. And what I believe – and that belief is reaffirmed by the meetings that I’ve had so far today and everything that I have seen and heard – is that U.S.-Japan relations are in great shape. I feel very good about what we are doing and where we are headed.

So with that, I think we’ve got about 15 or 20 minutes. Let me stop and open the floor to a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Sir, nice to meet you again. Welcome back to Japan. I have a question about the Japan-Korea relationship. I understand you just came from Korea. There is an issue of concern on the part of Japan about how we can improve our relationship with Korea, and my question is: What kind of importance does Japan allocate a relationship with them to the U.S. regional strategy or you view the effectiveness of Japan as an island ally, as you explained? What kind of immediate action do you expect either of the countries to take to at least prevent the further exacerbation if not outright improvement in the relationship? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thanks, Kato-san. I think the way to look at this is to focus on the goals and to ask ourselves what’s important. Japan and Korea are both free market economies, liberal democracies, committed deeply to the rule of law and human rights. Both countries are close allies of the United States. Both countries benefit greatly from the stable security environment. The ties between the people of Japan and the people of Korea are warm and very deep, and from both the Japanese perspective, the Korean perspective, and frankly from the U.S. perspective good and effective cooperative relations on a bilateral basis and on a trilateral basis are key to preserving and advancing the interests of the neighborhood and of our people. Whether we’re talking about trans-national issues, such as counter-proliferation or organized crime, fighting pandemics, humanitarian relief and so on, or whether we’re talking about more immediate threats like North Korea, the fact of the matter is that practical cooperation between Japan and Korea, and trilateral cooperation with the United States, is really essential.

There are any number of issues on a bilateral basis as well as the stubborn historical concerns that can at any given point create obstacles and make cooperation more difficult. I think that the answer frankly is two-fold: first, for political leaders to take a strategic approach and to keep in mind the long-term interests of the nation, and secondly, for all parties concerned to exercise restraint and sensitivity in order to create space for positive progress.

QUESTION: Mr. Russel, thank you very much. President Obama has decided to take military action against Syria, and the United States government requires the international community to obtain a strong response to the Assad regime. What kind of response do you expect Japan to take?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Syria is a topic on which the U.S. government and the Japanese government have worked closely together, and in the recent period, in the wake of the tragic and despicable August 21 use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, in particular, have coordinated very closely. The Japanese government has come out strongly in condemnation of the use of chemical weapons and has clearly called for accountability for that action. This is an important statement, and frankly an important contribution. I think it reflects Japan’s values and Japan’s role as a voice of conscience within the international community. We continue to also work closely with Japan on the humanitarian problems, particularly the issue of the millions of Syrian refugees who are in temporary camps in Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere. And I certainly want to express the appreciation of the U.S. government for the generosity of the Japanese government and the Japanese people.

The fact of the matter is that the Middle East is not far away from the U.S. or from Japan, because we are each global players and what happens there matters to both of us. This is an issue where we have agreed to remain in close touch, and it is one of the topics that I am currently discussing in my meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

QUESTION: Akita from Nikkei newspaper. My question is about the Abe government says that they are waiting to consider about the implementation of collective security rights, sooner or later. They believe that it will contribute to the strengthening of the U.S.-Japan alliance. My question – but also there are several countries including China which may have concern about the move - so my question is, you may say that it is an issue for Japan to decide, but what is the U.S. position on this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I think there are a number of issues connected to the question that you’re asking, and perhaps I can take them apart a little bit. First and foremost is the fact that the U.S. and Japan have a long-term security partnership, and in the context of the alliance, not only today but back in 1985 when I first arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, we were actively discussing questions about interoperability, about Japan’s defense budget and about what Japan can do and do more of to contribute positively to its own defense, to the interest of the alliance, and to regional security. So these are not new issues.

Over the years, over the decades, the U.S. and Japan have learned to work together and have learned to trust each other. I think the U.S.-Japan alliance is a model of cooperation, and under the Obama Administration our efforts to further modernize and upgrade the alliance have made significant progress. The two sides are in discussion about roles, about missions, about capabilities, and about the guidelines that will shape our ability as an alliance to secure the defense of Japan as well as the foundation for economic growth in this dynamic region.

Now there is, and has been at various times including recently, discussion within the Japanese community about the possibility of constitutional reform or reinterpretation of policies. That is the issue that only the Japanese people can decide on, and in Japan as in every country, the people and their elected representatives have a sovereign right to hold that debate and to make those kinds of decisions.

The term “collective security” is often heard and often used. The answer to the question “What should countries like the United States or other of Japan’s neighbors think about collective security?” is dependent on the answer to the question “What exactly does it mean? What is Japan trying to do?”

For the United States, the bottom line is this: Japan is a valued and trustworthy security partner. Finding ways within the context of the alliance to enhance Japan’s ability to defend itself and to enhance Japan’s ability to contribute to the stability and security of the region is a good thing. We believe that what Japan is doing regionally to promote partner capacity, what Japan is doing in support of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts and what Japan is doing in international peacekeeping operations are also all to the good. So there are debates that need to occur within Japan. There are decisions that need to be made by the Japanese government, but throughout the level of communication and cooperation between our defense institutions and between our political and diplomatic leadership is excellent, and I have every confidence that in the period ahead, the alliance will be strengthened by the decisions that Japan and the United States take.

QUESTION: My question is about North Korea. North Korea has been quiet for a while – that’s my impression. Do you think that’s a sign they’re interested in Six-Party Talks (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I think that the way to look at the challenge presented by North Korea is not to focus on the decibel level – not how noisy they are – and not even how provocative their short-term behavior may be, but to keep our eyes collectively on the threat posed by North Korea’s dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons and nuclear missile capability in direct violation of international law and its own commitments. The North Korean effort to develop nuclear weapons and to put itself in a position to threaten its neighbors as well as the United States is a driver of instability in the region. It directly contradicts the positive trend toward economic dynamism, stability, and political reform. It is badly out of step with the times, and it is taking North Korea down a dead end road. President Obama has said – I think very eloquently – that North Korea will never find the economic prosperity, the security, or the international respect that it says it wants through its pursuit of nuclear weapons. We encourage North Korea to negotiate on the basis of its commitments. That means that North Korea must accept that the goal of negotiations is the complete and verifiable elimination of its nuclear program, and that should be undertaken on an urgent basis. I believe that there is a great deal of consensus among the five countries among the Six-Party Talks members, and the key element of that consensus is that it is unacceptable for North Korea to acquire nuclear capability and that the objective that we all share is a peaceful process on an expedited basis to bring North Korea into compliance with its denuclearization obligation.

QUESTION: In Seoul you mentioned that cooperation between North Korea and Syria. How much are you concerned about it, and especially about chemical weapons?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I didn’t comment on, and I frankly don’t know enough to comment on the specific issue of cooperation between Syria and North Korea on chemical weapons, although I did allude to the sordid history of cooperation between the North Korean government and the Syrian regime. That’s a subject that is very well known, including as a result of North Korea’s support of Syria’s nuclear program. The more immediate problem is ensuring that North Korea cannot proliferate any form of WMD. That gives urgency to the need for North Korea to be transparent in declaring its programs and to cooperate in a process to eliminate them.

QUESTION: Good to see you again in Tokyo. My question is about the U.S. and Japan-China relations and the Senkaku Islands. In Russia President Obama made clear that he is opposed to any effort to resolve the Senkaku issue through coercion and asked both parties to engage in dialogue. And Prime Minister Abe participated in Russia for the first time, but recently four Chinese coast guard ships entered Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands and today Chinese military ships went through to the Pacific Ocean and went near the Senkaku Islands. So how do you view the current situation in regard to the Senkaku Islands?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: We all share a major interest in the peaceful management of territorial differences, and nowhere is that more important than between the world’s second- and third-largest economies. Frankly, the global economy is too fragile and too important for Japan and China to be at odds, let alone to risk confrontation over a matter of territorial difference. The position of the United States is to categorically oppose the use or the threat of force in resolving disputes over territory, and we oppose, as President Obama said, unilateral efforts to change the status quo through coercion. We are, of course, concerned about the risk of an incident and very much want a peaceful and diplomatic approach to the differences over the East China Sea, over the Senkakus.

China and Japan are extremely important Asian countries, and not only for the economic reasons that I mentioned, but also in the interest of a healthy environment. We hope that the situation will cool down and that great care will be exercised to avoid any type of incident that could lead to a crisis.

Thank you all for coming, and I will be back in Japan. See you next time. Thanks very much.