House GOP chairman backs Trump's move to halt military exercises with South Korea

House GOP chairman backs Trump's move to halt military exercises with South Korea
© Greg Nash

A key House GOP chairman is backing President TrumpDonald John TrumpConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary Trump defends Nielsen amid criticism over family separations MORE's decision to stop "war games" with South Korea during denuclearization talks with the North, saying he believes only the large-scale, biannual exercises with the South would be halted.

“My understanding is we have two big joint military exercises with South Korea each year, roughly March and August,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberrySenate passes 6B defense bill Senate braces for Trump showdown over Chinese telecom giant Trump rattles Pentagon with Korea war games decision MORE (R-Texas) told reporters on Wednesday.

“I think the thing that would be suspended as long as the negotiations are making progress would be those big joint exercises, so the next one would be roughly August timeframe.”

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Thornberry added that he believes that the 28,500 U.S. troops based in South Korea would still engage in routine readiness training as the Trump administration engages in negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

“Obviously, you’re always training people to do their job. That never ends,” he said.

Trump caused confusion among lawmakers and foreign allies on Tuesday when he announced that the U.S. would be “stopping war games” on the Korean Peninsula amid ongoing discussions with North Korea about denuclearization.

Trump made the concession during his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore earlier this week, calling the exercises “very provocative.”

Vice President Pence on Tuesday afternoon told House and Senate Republican lawmakers that semiannual war games would cease – as long as North Korea follows through on efforts to denuclearize. But he added that “regular readiness training” would continue.

The Pentagon has said that the next large-scale joint military exercise with South Korea is Ulchi Freedom Guardian, scheduled for fall.

Thornberry said Wednesday he supports Trump’s decision to suspend the exercises as long as negotiations with Pyongyang are productive.

“You’ve got to give these negotiations every opportunity to succeed,” he said.

“This is an opportunity to hold their feet to the fire and see if they, North Korea, is serious about this.”

He added that it would be relatively simple to reschedule the war games if talks broke down.

“If they’re not serious, then it’s pretty easy to say, ‘OK, those joint exercises that were scheduled for August are now going to happen in September or October,’” Thornberry said.

He disagreed, however, with Trump's characterization that the exercises are “provocative.”

“Provocation is in the eye of the beholder,” Thornberry said.

“Obviously it is something that North Korea has complained about for a long time. My fundamental belief is that we must maintain and strengthen our military position. Partly I think because that aids negotiations and partly because if negotiations go sour we’re going to need it.”