Trump pick for South Korea ambassador: North Korea 'most imminent threat'

Trump pick for South Korea ambassador: North Korea 'most imminent threat'
© Getty Images

The outgoing commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, who has been nominated by President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE to be the next ambassador to South Korea, warned Wednesday that North Korea is the United States’s most immediate threat. 

“North Korea remains our most imminent threat,” Adm. Harry Harris said Wednesday. “And a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable.”

Harris was speaking at a ceremony where he was handing over leadership of U.S. Pacific Command to Adm. Philip Davidson. During the ceremony, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Top US general: Trump wrong on Syria pullout, ISIS defeat MORE also announced the command is being renamed Indo-Pacific Command.

Harris has been in charge of Pacific Command since 2015. In that capacity, he has previously warned that North Korea is the most immediate threat in the region, while China is the greatest long-term challenge.

Saying that a "27-year holiday from history is over," Harris also warned Wednesday that a historic inflection point is approaching with a return to so-called great power competition.

“Without focused involvement and engagement by the United States, and our allies and partners, China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia,” Harris said. “We should cooperate with Beijing where we can, but stand ready to confront them where we must.”

Though Harris’s remarks Wednesday were similar to previous statements, they took on new scrutiny as he prepares to become the top U.S. diplomat in South Korea while the United States is engaging in delicate diplomacy with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Trump nominated Harris earlier this month to become the U.S. ambassador to South Korea after having first nominated him to be ambassador to Australia.

The Trump administration is scrambling to save a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that had been planned for June 12. Trump announced last week the meeting would be canceled, but there has since been a flurry of diplomacy to revive talks.

Three U.S. teams are meeting with North Korean delegations in New York, Singapore and the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea to try to plan the meeting.

Harris is unlikely to be confirmed by June 12, the potential summit date. The vacancy in South Korea has rankled Trump’s critics, who worry he is engaging in difficult diplomacy without a full team.