During a confirmation hearing at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, ret. Admiral Harry B. Harris, the president’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to South Korea, under questioning by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, underscored the importance of maintaining U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula.
The admiral agreed with Mr. Isakson’s assessment that South Korea was the best location for U.S. forces “to carry through on any commitment to the South Korean people…or any of the people in Japan or that part of the Pacific Rim” in view of U.S. manpower and investment already in place.
Mr. Harris also said that he was confident the U.S. alliance and commitments to South Korea are “ironclad.”
Mr. Isakson questioned Mr. Harris’ views about the potential consequences of the announced decision in Singapore earlier in the week to cease U.S. military exercises with South Korea.
“Does putting off or postponing what would have been a regularly scheduled exercise in any way damage our readiness in that part of the world,” asked Mr. Isakson.
“For any short period of time, no,” responded the admiral who also said that Vice President Pence had clarified that the administration’s intention was about major exercises, rather than regular training. “…that would be up to the Department of Defense to determine about what is allowable under the new construct,” he added. “But I’m convinced, and I know the administration has underscored, that our alliance commitments to South Korea remain ironclad and have not changed.”
In addition, Mr. Harris said that “breathing space” was needed for talks to continue and to determine whether “Kim Jong-un is serous on his part of the deal or not,” adding that “this gives us that opportunity.”
Immediately following the summit between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, Mr. Isakson called the event “a good first step in a historic negotiation, but it should be the first of many steps.”
“We have a long way to go, and we will need to see the details of this initial agreement and what could follow. We must make sure that any commitment made by North Korea to denuclearize is complete, verifiable and irreversible. I am committed to carefully and thoroughly examining any final treaty that is reached to ensure proper approval and oversight of its implementation.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has pushed back on suggestions that the suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea was a big win for Mr. Kim and claimed that the suspension was his idea.
“Holding back the ‘war games’ during the negotiations was my request because they are very expensive and set a bad light during a good faith negotiations,” Mr. Trump tweeted. The president also emphasized that the exercises can “start up immediately if talks break down.”
Mr. Harris recently stepped down as commander of the United States Pacific Command and reportedly has been a vocal critic of China’s military expansion in the region. He was born in Japan and reared in Tennessee and Florida. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1978.
He was originally slated by the administration to become ambassador to Australia, but prior to the Singapore summit his nomination was redirected to South Korea.