Prospective U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to change President Donald Trump’s choice for the ambassadorial post in Australia, top Adm. Harry Harris, and “re-nominate” him for the South Korea envoy position instead, the Washington Post (WaPo) reported this week.
Citing an unnamed senior White House official, the Post explained on Tuesday:
Harris was nominated to be Trump’s representative in Canberra in February, and the Australian government had approved the choice. But late Monday, the administration asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to postpone his confirmation hearing, which had been scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Harris has already told Pompeo he is willing to switch roles and serve in South Korea, the White House official said. An announcement is pending final approval from the president, which is expected to come shortly. Multiple administration officials told me Pompeo wants to move Harris to Seoul due to the urgency of filling that vacancy.
In a predominantly party-line vote of 11 to nine, with all but one of the ten Democrats in the Republican-led panel voting against him, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations narrowly cleared Pompeo, who has served as CIA Director since January 2017, to be the next secretary of state.
The full Senate is expected to approve Pompeo’s nomination later this week. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Pompeo vowed to quickly fill the U.S. ambassadorial post in South Korea, which has been vacant since President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
Referring to the U.S. ambassador post, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency noted on Wednesday:
The unusual long-haul vacancy has raised worries over a possible lack of policy coordination between the allies, which has gained urgency amid fast-changing security situations surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
Earlier this year, the U.S. withdrew Victor Cha, a North Korea expert, from consideration for the job amid allegations over his policy differences with the Trump administration on the North and other issues.
Pompeo recently met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. President Trump is expected to follow suit in a historic move intended to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear power.
“Trump has faced criticism for not nominating his own ambassador to Seoul as the administration ramps up its North Korea engagement ahead of a possible summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,” WaPo notes.
Members of both parties respect Adm. Harris who has decades of experience in the Pacific region. The top admiral had been planning to retire soon.
Harris has been an outspoken critic of Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea, prompting criticism against him from Beijing.