President Donald Trump moved to fill a key gap in his foreign policy team by picking Adm. Harry Harris to be his nominee for ambassador to South Korea, just weeks before a planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
While the White House had earlier this year signaled that Harris — the head of U.S. Pacific Command — would be the American envoy to Australia, that changed after Mike Pompeo was chosen to became secretary of state.
Pompeo has led U.S. outreach to North Korea, traveling twice to Pyongyang in recent weeks, but South Korea has played a key role in bringing the two sides together and the lack of an ambassador in Seoul with close ties to the Trump administration was cited as a vulnerability for the U.S.
Trump and Kim are scheduled to meet in Singapore on June 12.
In a statement Friday, the White House cited Harris for being a “proven naval officer with extensive knowledge, leadership and geopolitical expertise in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The 40-year military veteran was born in Japan and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1978, according to his official biography.
In an interview on Fox News in November, Harris described North Korea as the most immediate threat to the U.S. Citing comments that continue to be used by White House officials, Harris said the ultimate American goal in dealing with Kim’s regime is “one seeking complete, verifiable and permanent denuclearization of the peninsula. I believe that diplomacy has to be the main battery, but that is diplomacy backed by a credible military power.”
But referring to fears that tensions between the U.S. and North Korea could lead to a catastrophic conflict, Harris told participants at a Chamber of Commerce event in Hawaii earlier this year that it was his job to “imagine the unimaginable,” according to a report in Stars & Stripes.
“And what is unimaginable to me are North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles delivered here in Honolulu, or in Los Angeles, or in New York or Washington, D.C.,” Harris said, according to the article.
Trump must submit Harris’s nomination to the Senate for confirmation before he can take up his post.
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