"While this readiness training and exchanges will occur, war games will not."
President Donald Trump made a series of unprecedented concessions to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their summit Tuesday in Singapore -- confusing even his allies in the US and abroad.
The president said he was ending US war games with South Korea, calling them "very expensive" and "provocative."
He said he eventually wants to end the decades-long US military presence on the Korean Peninsula, though he noted "that's not part of the equation right now."
Trump overturned longstanding US policy just by showing up. No other sitting president has agreed to meet with a North Korean leader.
Beyond that, he treated the summit as a meeting of equals and warmly praised Kim -- who is a brutal dictator -- calling him a “very talented man” who "loves his people" and "loves his country. Trump even said he would "absolutely" invite Kim to the White House.
Trump's generosity threw Republicans in Congress for a loop. Many were unclear on what exactly Trump meant when he said the war games were over.
Vice President Pence did not immediately help when he went to Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon to brief Republican lawmakers on summit-related issues.
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said after the meeting that Pence had said military exercises would continue. He later clarified that Pence said "while this readiness training and exchanges will occur, war games will not."
An administration official later drew a distinction between the big semiannual war games with South Korea -- which he confirmed would be suspended contingent on North Korea following through on dismantling its nuclear arsenal -- and the smaller regular training drills -- which he said were unchanged.
Although Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford were made aware of the decision before Trump's announcement, a spokesperson for US forces in South Korea said they had not received "updated guidance," and a war game remained on the schedule for the fall.
Other Republicans raised questions about the wisdom of ending the exercises.
“I don’t think that’s wise,” said Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. “We have done these exercises for years with the South Koreans, and so I would just ask the president, why do we need to suspend them? They are legal.”
South Korea, which is among the regional countries that rely on the US security umbrella, sounded surprised by Trump's announcement. A spokesman for the presidential Blue House said officials needed to "find out the precise meaning or intentions" of Trump’s remarks.
The North -- whether intentionally or not -- also muddied the waters. The state news agency claimed that in addition to ending military exercises with South Korea, Trump agreed to lift sanctions against the country and provide it with security guarantees. The Korean Central News Agency also reported that Kim had accepted an invitation to visit the White House.
The White House did not immediately comment. Trump said Tuesday that sanctions would remain in places to exert "tremendous pressure."
Trump claimed success in the pageantry-laden summit, pointing to the agreement he signed with Kim that commits North Korea to "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula. Although the document is ambiguous and offers no timetable or enforcement mechanism for the North to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, Trump said after the summit that he trusts Kim to follow through.
However, many saw Kim as the big winner of the day. In addition to be treated as an equal to the US president on the world stage, the brutal dictator was lavished with praise by Trump, who called him a “very talented man” who "loves his people" and "loves his country." Trump also agreed to a longstanding North Korean demand that the United States suspend its military exercises in South Korea, saying doing so would save "a tremendous amount of money" and is anyway "provocative."
While Trump said in a press conference after the meeting that he had broached the subject of North Korea's atrocious human rights record, he mostly flattered Kim and expressed confidence in the dictator's commitment to dismantling his nuclear arsenal.