Sen. Cory Gardner cautious over North Korea deal amid confusion over 'war games' promise

DENVER – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner cautiously praised the deal reached between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un Tuesday morning before an apparent misunderstanding between him and Vice President Mike Pence caused a stir among U.S. officials and reporters.

Gardner, the Colorado Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity who has been praised by some of his fellow lawmakers on the Hill for his work on U.S.-North Korea relations, said he was pleased that the administration has been willing to engage with North Korea.

“The Trump Administration, under Congressional direction, deserves praise for abandoning the failed policy of strategic patience and pursuing a maximum pressure campaign that has resulted in unprecedented sanctions against this heinous regime,” Gardner said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Gardner has since the Trump administration took office been even more vocal about his view that the diplomacy practiced under past administrations wasn’t working, especially in the wake of several ballistic missile tests and a hydrogen bomb test undertaken by North Korea last year.

Gardner also drew the ire of Kim last year when he said "most people agree" that Kim is a "whack job." Kim in return called Gardner a "psychopath" who is "mixed in with human dirt." And when Trump initially canceled the Singapore summit late last month, Gardner predicted that Kim would come back to the table.

He told Denver7 last week ahead of the Trump-Kim summit that North Korea would have “to give up their nuclear program in order for us to relent on our sanctions and the isolation they have seen both diplomatically and economically,” saying if the talks succeeded, it would be among the biggest accomplishments the world had seen in decades.

But in his interview last week with Denver7, Gardner was also cautious.

“I think Kim Jong Un, his family, they’re master propagandists and we have to be aware of that. His family have made promises before. They’ve broken those promises,” Gardner said. “We have to be eyes-open on this. The president should be able to push back at any time he doesn’t think it’s about denuclearization.”

The document the president and the North Korean dictator signed says Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” though Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan were cautious in believing whether or not Kim was truly committed.

Gardner’s Tuesday morning statement echoed those sentiments.

“Today’s summit must be followed by multiple meetings to test North Korea’s promises of denuclearization, which they have made in the past and then repeatedly violated,” Gardner said. “Until such time as North Korea takes concrete steps to denuclearize, our policy should be to continue the maximum pressure campaign. The complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as enshrined in US law and multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions, must be the only goal of US engagement with North Korea.”

But the lack of clarity in the document that Trump and Kim signed clearly spilled over to lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence during Tuesday’s weekly Senate GOP lunch. Trump called in from Air Force One and Pence spoke to senators about the deal.

Trump had said that part of the deal included an end to military exercises involving the U.S. and ally South Korea in the area, but after the lunch, a Politico reporter tweeted that Gardner told reporters that Pence had said the exercises would continue.

But Pence’s spokesperson, Alyssa Farah, tweeted that Pence “didn’t say this at the Senate lunch today.”

Gardner clarified the confusion in two tweets, saying first that “@VP was very clear: regular readiness training and training exchanges will continue,” then adding that Pence “went on to say while this readiness training and exchanges will occur, war games will not.”

Farah retweeted both tweets.

NBC News reported that a Pence aide “made clear the biannual military exercises will cease”—a point Gardner’s office confirmed to Denver7.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., was also cautious about the details of the deal, but praised the meeting nonetheless.

“Politics aside, all Americans should be glad the Singapore Summit may have averted war,” Coffman said in a statement. “Time will tell whether peace will prevail, meanwhile I will be reviewing the details closely.”

Democrats weren’t quite as happy about the meeting. Former Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Trump handed Kim “wins up front without getting anything in return.”

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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