Trump 5th US president to visit DMZ, first to cross to North

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : Jun 30, 2019 - 18:26
  • Updated : Jun 30, 2019 - 18:36

US President Donald Trump made history when he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone on Sunday, becoming the first sitting US president to meet a North Korean leader at the DMZ and to cross into the North.

Trump was the fifth US president to visit the border area separating the two Koreas, some seven years after Barack Obama’s visit in 2012.

Every US president since Ronald Reagan has visited the border area, except for George H.W. Bush, who made the trip when he was vice president to Reagan.

Trump had sought to visit the DMZ during his first state visit to South Korea in November 2017, but the trip was canceled at the time due to heavy fog. 

US President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday. (AP-Yonhap)

After taking a helicopter from the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, a former US military base, Trump arrived at the Joint Security Area landing zone.

Trump not only peered into North Korea from Observation Post Ouellette, but crossed the Military Demarcation Line with Kim and took several steps into the North’s side of the DMZ. Their surprise meeting was their third since the Singapore summit in June 2018 and the Hanoi summit in February this year.

For the former US presidents, who visited the heavily fortified area during periods of heightened tension with the communist regime, the DMZ was a place from which to deliver a strong message to Pyongyang.

Reagan was the first US president to visit the DMZ in November 1983. At Observation Post Ouellette, just 25 meters south of the Military Demarcation Line, he called Pyongyang “an enemy.”

Former US presidents visited the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas. From top left, clockwise: Ronald Reagan on Nov. 14, 1983; Bill Clinton on July 11, 1993; George W. Bush, February 20, 2002; Barack Obama on March 25, 2012. (Yonhap)

“You stand between the free world and the armed forces of a system that is hostile to everything we believe in as Americans,” Reagan said, addressing the US troops there.

“The Communist system to the North is based on hatred and oppression. It brutally attacks every form of human liberty and declares those who worship God to be enemies of the people.”

Bill Clinton, who once called the area “the scariest place on Earth,” made the trip in July 1993, four months after North Korea withdrew from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

In February 2002, George W. Bush visited the zone after he had called North Korea part of the “axis of evil.”

“No nation should be a prison for its own people,” Bush said, delivering a message aimed at the North.

When Obama toured the DMZ in March 2012, he highlighted the differences between South and North Korea at a time when Pyongyang was seen to be gearing up for missile launches.

“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,” Obama said.

By Jo He-rim (