South Korean ambassador pick splits with Trump on 'nuclear threat' from North

South Korean ambassador pick splits with Trump on 'nuclear threat' from North

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE’s pick to be ambassador to South Korea said Thursday that North Korea remains a nuclear threat to the U.S., contradicting remarks Trump made a day before.


“We have to continue to worry about that,” retired Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing.

Harris was responding to a question from the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Pompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors MORE (N.J.), who asked whether North Korea is still a nuclear threat.

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea” following his summit earlier this week with leader Kim Jong Un.

Harris, the former head of U.S. Pacific Command, voiced support, however, for Trump’s decision to temporarily suspend large-scale, joint military exercises with South Korea while negotiations with North Korea are ongoing.

Critics say that halting the “war games” with South Korea represents a disappointing concession to Kim.

Harris oversaw military drills between Washington and Seoul and defended them even as North Korea regularly offered criticism.

“We are obliged to defend South Korea by treaty,” Harris told lawmakers last year. “They have a very strong and capable military, as we do. But if we’re going to defend them or if we’re going to fight with them on the peninsula, then we have to be able to integrate with their military.”

Harris addressed his prior remarks during his confirmation hearing.

“In my previous capacity I spoke very strongly about the need to continue with military exercises, most notably in 2017, but we were in a different place in 2017,” Harris explained Thursday. “North Korea was exploding nuclear weapons, they were launching ballistic missile almost willy-nilly ... if war wasn't imminent, it was likely.”

But following Trump’s meeting with Kim in Singapore on Tuesday, Harris believes that “we are in a dramatically different place.”

“I think the whole landscape has shifted, and I believe we should give exercises, major exercises, a pause to see if Kim Jong Un is in fact serious about his part of the negotiations,” he said.

Trump earlier this week announced after meeting with Kim that the U.S. would be “stopping war games” on the Korean Peninsula as long as talks with North Korea stay on track.

The Pentagon has still not said which drills would be halted and for how long, but a U.S. official told AFP Thursday that “major military exercises have been suspended indefinitely on the Korean Peninsula.”

The Defense Department holds two major joint military drills with South Korea each year, in roughly March and August.

Harris explained that the paused drills are needed to “create some breathing space for the negotiations to continue and assess whether Kim is serious on his part of the deal or not.”

Asked if he thought the exercises were provocative, as Trump said when he announced their temporary suspension, Harris replied that “they are certainly of concern to North Korea and China, but we do them in order to exercise our ability to work and interoperate with our South Korean allies.”

Harris also said postponing the exercises “for short periods of time” won’t damage military readiness in that part of the world.

He added that he believes Trump was referring to postponing the Pentagon’s larger, semiannual exercises with South Korea, rather than regular training and readiness drills, “but I don't know that for a fact. That would be up to the Department of Defense to determine what is allowable under the new construct.”

Harris also made clear that “alliance commitments to South Korea remain ironclad and have not changed.”