Trump Scraps Surprise Korea DMZ Visit as Fog Blankets Border

Updated on
  • Visit to fortified border wasn’t part of official itinerary
  • North Korea has refrained from provocation during Trump’s trip
Bloomberg’s Stephen Engle explains why President Trump has scrapped a surprise visit to the DMZ.

President Donald Trump scrapped plans for a surprise visit to the demilitarized zone dividing South Korea and North Korea on Wednesday as thick fog blanketed the heavily fortified border.

Trump’s helicopter flew within five minutes of the landing zone, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in was diverted to an alternative location, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. The visit was intended to be a symbol of the strong alliance between the nations, she said.

“I think he’s pretty frustrated,” Sanders said of Trump, who is scheduled to head to Beijing later on Wednesday. “The fact they were planning to go still shows the strength of the alliance.”

The stop at the DMZ was planned before Trump left for Asia but wasn’t part of his public itinerary. Security was so tight around the visit that the 13 reporters accompanying Trump for the day were told they could sleep in Wednesday morning, but then alerted at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday that they should instead be ready to leave at 5:45 a.m.

Sanders met the traveling reporters in the morning with a notepad on which she’d hand-written his destination: “DMZ.” She had been instructed not to say the word aloud, she said.

North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs have been among the president’s thorniest foreign policy issues, as he seeks to prevent Kim Jong Un from developing a weapon capable of hitting the mainland U.S. Trump toned down his harsh rhetoric toward North Korea in Seoul on Tuesday, saying Kim’s regime should negotiate and not ruling out direct talks.

“I really believe that it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and to make a deal that’s good for the people of North Korea and the people of the world,” Trump said at a joint news conference with Moon. “I do see certain movement, yes, but let’s see what happens.”

Trump’s remarks were a stark departure from his comments in recent months, when he promised “fire and fury” against Kim. The bellicose statements, and Kim’s dangerous provocations, have ratcheted up tensions in the region to the highest level in decades.

North Korea, for its part, has so far refrained from a provocation such as a missile or nuclear test during Trump’s visit to the region.

With the exception of George H.W. Bush, who visited the fortified border as vice president, all of Trump’s predecessors since Ronald Reagan have made the trip to the DMZ. Vice President Mike Pence visited it earlier this year.

Senior administration officials had told reporters ahead of the trip that Trump would visit Camp Humphrey, an Army base south of Seoul, instead of the DMZ. One of the officials called presidential visits to the DMZ a cliche.

Hundreds of thousands of troops on both sides of the border guard the DMZ that bisects the peninsula, a legacy of the 1950-53 war that ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. Neither North Korea nor South Korea is a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty that bans the use of anti-personnel mines.

It wasn’t immediately clear how far Trump is willing to go toward a deal with the North Koreans. The long-held U.S. position is that no direct talks can occur until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, while North Korea has said it won’t negotiate away its arsenal unless the U.S. drops its hostile posture toward the nation and offers security guarantees.

Even as he spoke of negotiations, Trump also reminded North Korea that the U.S. had three aircraft carriers in the region along with a nuclear submarine.

“We have many things happening that we hope, we hope -- in fact I’ll go a step further, we hope to God -- we never have to use,” he said.

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