WASHINGTON ― The recently retired four-star head of U.S. Pacific Command said he backs President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend major exercises with South Korea during denuclearization talks with the North Korean government.
A mustachioed Harry Harris told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing for ambassador to South Korea that the suspension of those exercises would, in the short term, not have a deleterious effect on readiness.
Harris said his previous strong support for continuation of exercises was voiced during a time of heightened danger and that Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had created a different landscape.
“In my previous capacity I spoke strongly about the need to continue exercises, most notably in 2017, but we were in a different place in 2017,” Harris said. “North Korea was exploding nuclear weapons, they were launching ballistic missiles willy-nilly, and if war wasn’t imminent, it was certainly possible and maybe even likely.
“I think today, following the president’s summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un, we are in a dramatically different place. The whole landscape has shifted, and I believe that we should give major exercises a pause to see if Kim Jong Un is serious about his part of the negotiations.”
Peace with the North is a possibility, but the administration needs to stay realistic moving forward, Harris said.
“For the first time in my career we are in a place where peace is a possibility,” he told lawmakers. “I think we should be encouraged by that. I’ve said before that we can be hopeful, we can even be optimistic so long as we are realistic, and I’m convinced that the administration has that realism at heart as we move forward.”
Harris retired as head of PACOM on May 30. He was originally slated to become Trump’s ambassador to Australia, but was shifted to South Korea after the previous nominee withdrew.
As PACOM commander, Harris regularly cited North Korea as the No. 1 threat to security in his theater.
He is expected to cruise through his confirmation.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.