WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After almost one and a half years in office, the Trump government has succeeded in occupying one of the most important US ambassador posts, with the Senate unanimously approving former Pacific Commander Harry Harris as the next US Ambassador to South Korea.
The Senate reaffirmed Harris' nomination in a late-Thursday poll, and is expected to assume his post in Seoul since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in January 2017 since the beginning of July is free.
The retired Admiral will take office at a time when South Korea and the United States are working closely together to unite with North Korea to persuade them to abandon a nuclear weapons program that is now threatening the United States.
This commitment led to an unprecedented summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12. However, it is expected that lengthy follow-up negotiations will be necessary before Pyongyang is negotiated.
Harris, born in Japan to a Japanese mother and American father, previously headed the US Pacific Command in Hawaii, which includes the 28,500 US forces in South Korea, an important US ally.
At a Senate hearing this month, Harris supported the idea of a "break" in important US military exercises with South Korea, which Trump announced immediately after the summit. Harris said it would take time "to see if Kim Jong Un is actually seriously involved in his negotiations."
Delivering his command on May 30, Harris said North Korea was the US's most immediate threat and said "A nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles capable of reaching the United States is unacceptable."
Harris was originally named Trump's US ambassador to Australia, but in April he was asked by the current Foreign Minister, Mike Pompeo, to replace the Seoul center when diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean crisis intensified.
Apart from North Korea, Harris will have to master a tricky task by leading US trade relations with South Korea, which Trump has repeatedly criticized as unfair. Trump has also questioned at times the usefulness of the longstanding US alliance with South Korea and has called on Seoul to pay more for the presence of US troops.
The Trump government was criticized by its opponents for not holding key key Foreign Ministry posts, while the White House blamed the Democrats for blocking nominations.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; additional reporting from Patricia Zengerle; Arrangement by Cynthia Osterman