Admiral Harry Harris lined up to fill America’s key South Korean envoy post
Washington plans to nominate Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the US Pacific Command, for the key, and long-vacant post of ambassador to South Korea, US officials said on Tuesday.
Admiral Harris was already nominated to be America’s next envoy to Australia and the switch was instigated by incoming secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, the Washington Post reported.
Mr Pompeo had told his Senate confirmation hearing this month that filling the role required “immediate attention.”
Australia also confirmed the news on Wednesday. Canberra, which had already approved the admiral’s nomination had no choice but to take the decision on the chin.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she had been informed of the decision by Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan.
"We understand this sort of thing happens and we also understand the challenges the United States has on the Korean peninsula," Ms Bishop told reporters in Sydney.
She said Mr Sullivan made it clear a new appointment would be a priority for the next secretary of state.
Like South Korea, Australia has not had a full US ambassador since President Donald Trump won the US election in 2016.
“The national security situation on the Korean Peninsula is of the highest priority,” a US official told Reuters when asked to confirm the switch in nominations. “Our relationship with Australia is and remains steadfast.”
Filling the office in Seoul has become a more pressing priority ahead of upcoming keynote summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Mr Trump, to resolve tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and weapons programmes.
Admiral Harris is known for his hawkish views on China’s military expansion in the South China Sea, but has less experience of diplomatic involvement with North Korea. He has visited South Korea, where about 28,000 US troops are stationed, multiple times in his various military roles.
The admiral’s nomination comes just days ahead of a historic summit on Friday between Mr Moon and the North Korean leader. A later meeting between Kim and President Trump is expected in late May or early June.
Mr Harris told the US Senate Armed Services Committee last month that Washington could not be overly optimistic about the outcome of a Trump-Kim summit and must go into it with “eyes wide open.”
He said he was encouraged by the prospect of a summit, but North Korea remained the biggest Asia-Pacific security threat. He added that Kim would like to see reunification of the Korean peninsula under his rule, and sought respect, status and security through the possession of nuclear weapons.
Earlier this year Admiral Harris told the Senate Armed Services Committee that any moves to pull out US troops from South Korea would result in Kim Jong-un doing a “victory dance.”
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