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Senate to vote on Trump’s nominee for Seoul envoy

June 28,2018
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Harry Harris
Retired Adm. Harry Harris, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, earned unanimous approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Tuesday, putting the administration one step closer to filling a position that has been vacant since January 2017 but crucial in high-stakes talks with North Korea.

A full Senate vote on his nomination will take place soon, though a date has yet to be announced. Sources with knowledge of the process said it could happen early next month, meaning Harris could start his post by the end of July if he wins a simple majority on the floor.

Marc Knapper has been serving as the acting ambassador since Mark Lippert, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, left the post after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

If confirmed by the Senate, Harris will be the first admiral and highest-ranking military officer to serve as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

Harris previously led the U.S. Pacific Command and spent 40 years in the Navy. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1978, he became a flight officer and rose through the ranks. When the White House announced Trump’s intention to nominate him for the post in Seoul, it described Harris as having “extensive knowledge, leadership and geopolitical expertise” in the Indo-Pacific region.

Trump initially tapped Harris to be ambassador to Australia in February, and the Australian government approved the choice, but his appointment was suddenly thrown into uncertainty when the Trump administration asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to postpone his confirmation hearing for the Canberra post.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then serving as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, reportedly pushed for Harris’ placement in Korea.

Harris was born in Yokosuka, Japan, to a U.S. Navy officer who served during World War II and the Korean War and a Japanese mother who was later naturalized in the United States.

When news first broke earlier this year that Harris would be nominated for the post in Seoul, South Korean media described him as a hawk on North Korea, taking cue from his remarks during a 2014 Senate confirmation hearing for his admiral post that the North was America’s “most volatile and dangerous threat.”

But Harris has since toned down his rhetoric in cue with the Trump administration’s engagement with the North on denuclearization talks.

The United States, he said at a recent nomination hearing, was in a “dramatically different place” after Trump held his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12.

Shortly after the summit, Harris told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States should suspend major military exercises with South Korea “to see if Kim Jong-un is in fact serious about his part of the negotiations.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, KIM HYUN-KI [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]