Adm. Harry Harris, who oversees US military operations in the Indo-Pacific, said Thursday that "we can't be overly optimistic on outcomes" when it comes to the recently announced summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"As we go into this, I think we can't be overly optimistic on outcomes. We'll just have to see where it goes if and when we have the summit," Harris told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that he believed the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula would remain the goal of the talks.
Speaking from the White House earlier this month, South Korea's national security adviser made the surprise announcement that Trump had accepted an invitation from Kim to meet, saying that the summit would take place by May. The White House later confirmed Trump's acceptance of the invitation.
Harris said he was "encouraged by recent developments on the Korean Peninsula and the possibility of a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un" but added that "North Korea remains our most urgent security threat in the region."
"This past year has seen rapid and comprehensive improvement in North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities despite broad international condemnation and the imposition of additional United Nations security resolutions," Harris said.
"It is indisputable that KJU is rapidly closing the gap between rhetoric and capability. The Republic of Korea and Japan have been living under the shadow of North Korea's threats for years, now that shadow looms over the American homeland," he added, using an acronym for the North Korean leader.
Asked by the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, if he thought that progress with North Korea would be slow and that "the likelihood of a total complete agreement in one or two meetings is doubtful," Harris responded by noting the unprecedented nature of the summit.
"I don't know, Senator. We've never been in a position where a president, our President has met with a leader of North Korea ever, so I don't have a way to predict the future I just think that we have to go into this eyes wide open," Harris said.
Harris said the US military "will continue to fully support the President's maximum pressure campaign and be ready to respond with our allies and partners to the full range of contingency scenarios."
But Harris rejected the notion that the Trump administration was actively considering a quick preemptive strike against North Korea, referred to by some as the "Bloody Nose" strategy.
"We have no bloody nose strategy. I don't know what that is. The press have run with it. I'm charged with developing, for the national command authority, a range of options through the spectrum of violence and I'm ready to execute whatever the President and the national command authority directs me to do but a bloody nose strategy is not contemplated," he said.
Harris said that if a military conflict were to take place it would likely not be quick and localized.
"We have to be ready to do the whole thing and we are ready to do the whole thing if ordered by the President," he said.
But Harris also said that their were advantages to engaging with North Korea.
"We haven't lost anything by talking. The opportunity to engage has value in of itself regardless of the outcome," Harris added.