SANTIAGO, Chile >> Vice President Mike Pence today skirted questions about comments by President Donald Trump voicing sympathy for Charlottesville protesters, but says he stands with the president nonetheless.
Pence wouldn’t say today whether he agrees with Trump that there were “fine people” among the white supremacists, KKK members and neo-Nazis who took to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
Trump has said that “both sides” are to blame for the violence between white supremacists and counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville. One woman died when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally.
In a carefully-worded statement, Pence called what happened in Charlottesville “a tragedy” and said, “the president has been clear on this tragedy and so have I.”
“I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Colombia and I stand with the president and I stand by those words,” he added.
Pence said Sunday that “these dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”
He said today that even though he is in Chile, “our hearts are in Charlottesville” where a funeral for the young woman killed during the protest was being held. He said he has been praying for her.
“The strength of the United States of America is always strongest as the president has said so eloquently when we are united around our shared values and so it will always be,” Pence said.
The vice president is on a weeklong trip to Latin America to build ties with the region and speak out against the growing crisis in Venezuela. After meeting with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, he said he will “return from this trip more encouraged than ever that not only will our commerce grow, strengthening jobs and opportunities in America, strengthening prosperity across Latin America.”
He also called on Chile to “break all diplomatic and commercial ties” to North Korea. He said he made the request to Bachelet, and is making the same ask of Peru, Mexico and Brazil.
North Korea has no diplomatic offices or banking institution in Chile, but the two countries do have a trade relationship.
Pence said “we are beginning to see progress” when it comes to North Korea, but says that “much more” must still be done. The Trump administration has been trying to pressure Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile program.
The White House announced today that Pence is cutting the trip slightly short so he can join the president for a meeting at Camp David to discuss South Asia strategy. Pence had originally been scheduled to return home Friday afternoon. Instead, he’ll be leaving late Thursday.
Pence is still scheduled to travel to Panama, where he will meet with the country’s president and tour the newly-enlarged Panama canal before returning to Washington.