Senate panel approves Harry Harris as US ambassador to South Korea

Retired Admiral Harry Harris has been approved by the US Senate committee to be ambassador to South Korea. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - A United States Senate committee on Tuesday (June 26) approved President Donald Trump's pick for ambassador to South Korea, paving the way for his confirmation, Yonhap news agency reported.

Retired Admiral Harry Harris was tapped by Trump last month to fill a post that has remained vacant since the administration took office early last year.

The former chief of the US Pacific Command won unanimous approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ahead of a full Senate vote expected for early July.

At his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Harris expressed support for Trump's decision to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea while the US negotiates the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

"I believe we should give exercises, major exercises, a pause to see if Kim Jong-un is in fact serious about his part of the negotiations," he said, referring to the North Korean leader. "Today, following the summit, we are in a dramatically different place."

Trump and Kim met in Singapore on June 12. The North Korean leader committed to "complete denuclearisation" of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for security guarantees from the US The details have yet to be worked out.

If confirmed by the Senate, Harris will serve as Washington's top envoy to Seoul at a time when the allies have been seeking close coordination on a range of issues, including North Korea's nuclear weapons program and bilateral trade.

The Navy admiral was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and American father. He led the US Pacific Command in Hawaii for three years until last month, with oversight over the 28,500-strong US Forces Korea.

On foreign policy issues, he is considered a hawk, along with some of the latest additions to Trump's national security team - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

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