WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump has nominated Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, as US Ambassador to South Korea ahead of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled next month.
If confirmed by the Senate, Adm Harris would fill a post that has been vacant since Mr Trump took office in January last year.
Adm Harris was initially nominated to be US ambassador to Australia but was asked last month by Mr Mike Pompeo, now the Secretary of State, to take the post in Seoul instead, as diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons intensified.
His formal nomination, announced by the White House on Friday, came days after North Korea raised doubts about whether an unprecedented June 12 summit in Singapore between Mr Kim and Mr Trump would go ahead.
It also came after Pyongyang called off talks with South Korea, whose president, Mr Moon Jae In, is due to meet Mr Trump at the White House on Tuesday.
Despite professed unity, Mr Trump has often taken a harder line on North Korea than Mr Moon, and the US President has repeatedly criticised South Korea over trade while questioning the usefulness of the longstanding US alliance with Seoul.
Adm Harris, who is known for hawkish views on China's military expansion, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee in March 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.