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Top US Diplomat Heads to Asia as N. Korea Addresses Leadership

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A senior Obama Administration diplomat says he is returning to Asia next week to hear what South Korean and Japanese officials have to say about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son.  Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell is also seeking to ease Chinese concerns about American intentions in the South China Sea.

Campbell says the United States knows remarkably little about Kim Jong Un and is looking for details, like everyone else.  He says Washington will remain cautious and listen carefully to what its regional allies have to say.  

"Our key here is to be careful, to make sure that we're in very deep consultation with our friends in the region.  I'll be in Japan and South Korea next week,” said Campbell.  “We, obviously, want to hear their views.  Our positions about what's necessary in terms of re-engagement in six-party [nuclear] talks and other kinds of engagement remain consistent and, frankly, we'll be waiting and watching carefully.”

U.S. State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley Tuesday was equally cautious about the decisions taken during this week's North Korean Workers' Party conference.

"I would suppose this is perhaps the ultimate reality show, unfolding in North Korea, and we are simply watching this very closely and it's a bit too early to assess what the implications are," Crowley said.  

North Korea's state-run news agency announced Wednesday Kim Jong Un, believed to be 27 or 28 years old, was named to the central committee of North Korea's Workers' Party.  He was also appointed vice-chairman of the party's central military commission and commissioned as a four-star general in the country's armed forces.

As for joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, Campbell says they are not aimed at China, but, he says, "a very clear signal to North Korea" regarding how future provocations such as the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March will be treated.  South Korea says an investigation concluded a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan.  Pyongyang denies the charge.

The assistant secretary is also seeking to ease Chinese concern about the disputed South China Sea, where it has increased its naval presence.  Campbell says the goal of American policy is to ensure a more stable, predictable environment.  

"And, we have no intention of taking sides or stoking up tension in the South China Sea.  This is a desire to create dialogue, a degree of predictability" said Campbell.  "Frankly, I will also say the ASEAN Regional Forum in which Secretary Clinton enunciated the American position quite clearly, she spoke after a number of states, over a dozen, spoke out about the need to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea."

Campbell also praised Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan for his handling of a dispute with China about the detention of the crew of a Chinese fishing boat in contested waters of the East China Sea.  He says Mr. Kan acted with "statesmanship," understanding the need for both countries to work together.  He predicts that the damage done to the bilateral relationship will be quickly repaired.

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