- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2018

President Trump’s pick to fill the long-vacant ambassador’s post in Seoul said the president’s personal diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has put the U.S. in a “dramatically different place,” but balked at endorsing Mr. Trump’s Twitter assertion that Pyongyang is no longer a nuclear threat.

“I think we must continue to worry about the nuclear threat,” retired Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the retired head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing, in response to a question from New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the panel’s ranking Democrat.

A day after his momentous summit in Singapore with Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump on Twitter slammed critics of the meeting this week and insisted, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” even though the North retains all of its nuclear and missile arsenal and has yet to begin the process of verifying and destroying its programs.

But Mr. Harris, who was slated to be ambassador to Australia before Mr. Trump reassigned him to South Korea, said the summit had had a clear and immediate impact on the crisis on the Korean peninsula. He backed Mr. Trump’s call for a suspension of U.S.-South Korean military exercises so long as the negotiations are proceeding in good faith.

“I think we are in a dramatically different place. I think the whole landscape has shifted and I believe that we should give exercises, major exercises, a pause, to see if Kim Jong-un in fact is serious,” he told lawmakers Thursday.

He said the suspension, which reportedly was not discussed with Seoul before Mr. Trump announced it, would not hurt the bilateral relationship in the long run.

“I’m convinced that our alliance commitments to South Korea remain ironclad and have not changed,” the former four-star admiral said, noting that routine military engagement with American and South Korean forces would continue unabated.

The position for U.S Ambassador to South Korea has been vacant for over a year, which prompted many to question the administration’s priorities. Lawmakers suggested Thursday Mr. Harris has a very strong chance of being confirmed quickly.

At the Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, Harris also said that Chinese- North Korean trade would be a direct violation of sanctions approved by the United Nations to pressure Pyongyang. The policy was adopted after it became clear that Mr. Kim’s government was committing human rights violations against its own people. Mr. Harris vowed to address the situation if confirmed.

“I believe the government of South Korea has a big role to play in the issue of the gross violations by the North,” said Mr. Harris.

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