PETALING JAYA - The United States has thrown its weight behind Malaysia in the Kim Jong-nam murder affair, calling North Korea's actions in the saga "reprehensible".
The US State Department's East Asian and Pacific Affairs assistant secretary Daniel Russel said Malaysian police had conducted a professional and impressive investigation into the murder based on facts.
"I want to express our respect and admiration for the professionalism of the Malaysian law enforcement authorities who worked from the facts in a quick, professional, and sophisticated manner," Russel told reporters in a conference call from Washington yesterday.
Russel was speaking to South-East Asian journalists in one of his final press briefings before leaving his post at the US State Department at the end of the week.
He will move on to serve as senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), a think-and-do tank that tackles major policy challenges confronting the Asia Pacific region.
The senior US diplomat had strong criticism for the heavy-handed actions taken by Pyongyang since the incident, including its latest decision to ban Malaysians from leaving the country.
He also openly blamed North Korea for the assassination of Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of leader Kim Jong-un, who was killed with a dose of the deadly VX nerve agent at the KLIA2 terminal on Feb 13.
"The hijacking of the territory of a country by a foreign power for the purpose of murder, for the purpose of political assassination is reprehensible.
"My sympathies go to Malaysia on that account," he said.
Russel said Wisma Putra was acting within its rights to declare North Korean ambassador Kang Chol as persona non-grata and to expel him in the wake of an increasingly heated row between both countries.
"The current diplomatic tension between Malaysia and DPRK is regrettable but I fully understand the actions taken by the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister of Malaysia in their decision to exercise their right under the Vienna Convention," he said.
Russel also shared Malaysia's concerns for the welfare of its citizens currently stuck in North Korea because of the temporary ban.
"The US have some unfortunate examples of American citizens detained in DPRK. I can only hope there is a quick and satisfactory resolution to the issues between Malaysian and North Korea," he added.