The White House had tapped Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, to be the next envoy to Australia in February. But officials told The New York Times that Harris would instead be nominated for the posting in Seoul just weeks before Trump is set to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Australian officials confirmed that Harris would not be coming to the country.
“We understand this sort of thing happens and we also understand the challenges the United States has on the Korean peninsula,” Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister, told reporters.
Harris, who oversees about 375,000 military and civilian personnel, has taken a hard line against North Korea in the past, saying at a Senate confirmation hearing in 2014 that he viewed the country as “our most dangerous and volatile threat.”
Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and North Korea have thawed in recent months, but there has been no American ambassador on the Korean peninsula since 2016. The embassy in Seoul has been run for the past year and a half by Charge d’Affaires Mark Knapper.
In his confirmation hearing to become secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo had promised to officially fill the role as soon as possible. Harris has reportedly already said he’s willing to swap roles, and officials are waiting for approval from the White House, according to The Washington Post.
Trump said he will meet with Kim sometime in May or June, although details about the summit have yet to be announced.