|US President Donald Trump waits next to helicopters at US Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, Wednesday, waiting for bad weather to clear so they can try and make a second attempt to fly to the Demilitarized Zone. AFP-Yonhap|
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Oct. 25, Trump declined to elaborate on whether he planned a visit to the DMZ, saying “Well, I’d rather not say but you’ll be surprised.”
However, it appeared that Trump would not be making the trip, becoming the first US leader not to do so since President Ronald Reagan in 1983. Since then, all US leaders have visited the DMZ at some point, although George H.W. Bush made his as vice president.
Days before Trump’s visit, it was revealed that the DMZ was not included in his itinerary and that he would visit Camp Humphreys instead.
Trump’s visit appeared to go according to the disclosed itinerary, kicking off at the US military installation and attending the welcoming ceremony, summit talks and an official dinner at Cheong Wa Dae.
However, in the early hours of Wednesday, media reports hinted that the US president was heading to the border aboard Marine One.
“This morning, President Trump headed out in his helicopter. Before coming to Korea, he said that there will be a surprise. There are high chances that he is heading to Panmunjeom,” one local broadcaster reported.
While Cheong Wa Dae declined to confirm related reports at the time, officials later revealed that Trump had indeed arranged the “surprise” visit, which he had hinted at during Tuesday’s welcoming dinner.
“We’re going to have an exciting day tomorrow, for many reasons that people will find out, in addition to the fact I look forward to making a -- hopefully -- very comprehensive speech before you and the leaders of Korea,” Trump said.
Seoul’s presidential office said arrangements had been made with President Moon Jae-in during the previous day’s one-on-one talks.
“President Trump raised the issue during the summit talks and Moon suggested that they make the visit together,” the Cheong Wa Dae official said after it was made known that the trip was canceled.
The morning trip did not go well. At around 7 a.m., Trump left his hotel and arrived 10 minutes later at Yongsan Garrison, a US military base in central Seoul, to get to the border via helicopter.
Marine One, however, was forced to turn back just minutes away from the DMZ, due to fog that reduced visibility to less than 1.6 kilometers.
Moon had arranged a surprise of his own to greet the US leader in person. He had gone ahead and had waited for Trump for about 30 minutes at the DMZ until returning to Seoul at around 9 a.m.
Moon had flown by helicopter and drove part of the way to get to the location. The option was said to have not been available to Trump due to security issues.
Their presence near the barbed wire fences, a few kilometers away from either side of the two Koreas, would have had significant meaning to the two countries’ alliance at a time when the North’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs have become a great threat to the South. Their visit would also have been the first time US and South Korean presidents had gone to the DMZ together.
By Choi He-suk and Bak Se-hwan (email@example.com) (firstname.lastname@example.org)