U.S. ambassador to South Korea confirms departure

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Jan. 13 (UPI) — U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris said he is leaving his post next week, more than two years after arriving in the country to serve as the Trump administration’s top diplomatic envoy.

Harris, 64, who has championed the U.S. alliance with South Korea while supporting diplomacy with the North, tweeted Wednesday his departure is confirmed and that he and his wife Bruni Bradley had enjoyed living in the country.

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“As I’ve said many times, there’s no better place to serve as United States ambassador & no better friend & ally than South Korea,” Harris wrote.

The top U.S. diplomat to Seoul is concluding his term during a period marked by friction between the two countries. Harris initially was named U.S. ambassador to Australia, but a prolonged vacancy in Seoul prompted the United States to reappoint him to the peninsula.

Harris became the target of student-led protests in the South after local reports suggested the ambassador urged South Korean politicians to go along with demands from President Donald Trump to increase five-fold annual South Korean contributions to U.S. troops.

Defense burden-sharing negotiations remain deadlocked as Trump prepares to leave office. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to repair ties with allies and discard the president’s “America First” policy.

South Korea’s ruling party progressives criticized Harris for his alleged statement on defense costs, and South Korean left-wing activists staged demonstrations mocking Harris’ mustache and associating his facial hair with colonial Japanese rulers of the peninsula.

“My mustache, for some reason, has become a point of some fascination here,” Harris told a group of foreign correspondents in Seoul in January 2020. “I have been criticized in the media here … because of my ethnic background, because I am a Japanese-American.”

Last year, during the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, Harris showed support for the movement by hanging a banner outside the embassy. The sign was later removed.

According to the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday, Harris said the United States and North Korea took the “first crucial steps toward denuclearization” and praised South Korea’s COVID-19 response.

“We are friends, partners, allies and family. We have come a long way, and to the future, we go together,” Harris said, according to Yonhap.