WASHINGTON – The White House says President Donald Trump will not visit the Demilitarized Zone during his upcoming trip to Asia — a break from many previous administrations.
There’s not enough time in the president’s schedule to accommodate a visit to the heavily fortified border zone that has separated the North and South Korea for 64 years, a senior administration official told reporters during a White House background briefing Tuesday.
Trump will go to Camp Humphreys, a military base about 65 km (40 miles) south of Seoul, to highlight the U.S.-South Korean partnership, instead.
Trump’s trip comes amid his escalating rhetoric and taunts against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the country’s nuclear program. In a recent speech at the United Nations, Trump said he would “totally destroy” the nation, if necessary. He also derided Kim as “little Rocket Man.”
Every president but one since Ronald Reagan has visited the DMZ, often wearing bomber-style jackets and flanked by military officers. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, visited during a 2012 trip to Seoul and told troops stationed at the border that “the contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker, both in terms of freedom but also in terms of prosperity.”
Numerous Trump administration officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have all made the trip. Pence said his trip let North Koreans “see our resolve in my face.”
The White House has played down the notion that the hesitance to visit the DMZ stemmed from security concerns, although experts on the region say a visit could have further inflamed tensions.
Trump will depart Friday for a trip that will take him to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. He will attend several summits, hold a series of meetings, be feted at banquets and spend time golfing with Japanese President Shinzo Abe.
Trump will meet for the first time with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been accused of human rights abuses, including killing suspected drug dealers. The White House has said that Trump could raise concerns about the program.
But the official said on Tuesday that Trump and Duterte shared a warm rapport during a telephone conversation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to preview the president’s itinerary and aims on the record.
The White House said Trump spoke with Abe by phone on Monday to discuss the trip. They also discussed the importance of promoting a “free and open Indo-Pacific region,” maintaining close ties, and maximizing pressure on the North.