Trump's Surprise Attempt to Visit Korean DMZ Thwarted by Bad Weather
White House senior staff discuss the situation as U.S. President Donald Trump sits in his car after being grounded from an attempt to visit the Demilitarized Zone, at a U.S. military post in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 8, 2017.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
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SEOUL, South Korea — President Donald Trump tried and failed to visit the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea Wednesday morning, turned back by a bad weather call that foiled the surprise trip.
This after White House senior aides previously told reporters that a stop in the DMZ would not happen during Trump’s time in South Korea — with one adviser calling the stop “a bit of a cliché” because so many other U.S. officials had already done it.
Some might call it a tradition.
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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Trump as frustrated and disappointed after fog thwarted his attempt to helicopter into the DMZ. She said the trip was planned before the president left Wasington D.C., despite initial briefings to the contrary.
Marine One landed after the first attempt and waited nearly an hour for the fog to clear in hopes that they could try again, but the weather only worsened forcing the trip to be scrapped. The Chinook helicopters were about five minutes from landing before they turned back, Sanders said afterward.
Chief of Staff John Kelly, along with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commander of U.S. forces in South Korea General Vincent Brooks, and Deputy White House Chief of Staff for operations Joe Hagin accompanied the president on Marine One.
South Korea President Moon Jae-in was set to join Trump in the DMZ, in what Sanders said would have been an "historic moment" because she believes it would have been the first time a U.S. and South Korean president had visited the DMZ together. Moon was waiting for Trump on the ground in the DMZ, according to South Korean news outlet Yonhap.
"The effort shows the strong and importance of the alliance between the two countries," she said.
According to reporters traveling with the president, Sanders alerted them to the visit early Wednesday morning by scrawling the letters "DMZ" on a piece of paper and saying "this is where we're going."
The attempted trip came hours before the president was set to address the South Korean National Assembly.
Getting ready to make a major speech to the National Assembly here in South Korea, then will be headed to China where I very much look forward to meeting with President Xi who is just off his great political victory.
Beginning with Dwight Eisenhower's visit to the front lines of wartime Korea, U.S. leaders have traveled to the barbed and mined demilitarized zone dividing the Korean Peninsula, peering across the barren north through binoculars, hearing broadcast propaganda, and reaffirming their commitment to standing with the South.
In 1983, Ronald Reagan became first U.S. president to enter the DMZ — with South Korean artillery gunners standing poised to fire if necessary to protect him — and every president, barring one, has made the trip since. 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."
In 1993, Bill Clinton stood closer to North Korean territory than any Western leader, walking out on the "Bridge of No Return" and looking through binoculars at North Koreans about 50 yards away.
Ali Vitali is a political reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.