Trump pledge to halt US-South Korea 'war games' sows confusion on Capitol Hill

South Korean Marines move into position on a beach during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in the southeastern port of Pohang, Korea.

Jung Yeon-Je | AFP | Getty Images

South Korean Marines move into position on a beach during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in the southeastern port of Pohang, Korea.

Official Washington was roiled on Tuesday afternoon by competing interpretations of President Donald Trump’s loosely worded agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, to halt U.S. military exercises in Pyongyang’s backyard.

Speaking to Republican senators at their weekly lunch Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence reportedly downplayed the president’s startling announcement that the bilateral drills with South Korea would be suspended.

But some senators, like Colorado Republican Cory Gardner, heard in Pence’s words a reassuring commitment that the White House would not abruptly cease its multi-layered military training and preparedness drills in the region. This appeared to contradict the president’s assertion earlier, however, that the United States “will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money.”

When Gardner told reporters after lunch what Pence had said, the vice president’s office came out swinging, accusing Gardner of recounting a “false” version of Pence’s comments.

But rather than rescind his statement, Gardner instead appeared to double down, tweeting out that Pence “was very clear: regular readiness training and training exchanges will continue.”

Which prompted the vice president’s spokeswoman, Alyssa Farah to release similar tweets, pushing back on Gardner.

At the root of the misunderstanding were the president’s own comments, which were vague as to what exactly he meant by “war games.” What’s more, a document signed by both Trump and Kim did little to help clarify what Trump was committing to do.

And throughout the summit, Trump emphasized the emotional rapport he felt had with Kim, and avoided questions about the specifics of what either country was actually agreeing to do.

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