SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA —
U.S. President Donald Trump was forced to abandon an attempted surprise visit to the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea.
Before the president arrived in South Korea, officials had said he would not visit the demilitarized zone, because it was "a cliché."
But, that plan changed Wednesday morning, when pool reporters covering his visit were summoned earlier than expected and told by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders that they were going to the border zone.
Reporters joined the president’s motorcade just after 7 a.m. local time and headed for Yongsan Garrison, where they boarded Chinook helicopters bound for the DMZ. However, the trip was called off while the helicopters were in the air due to heavy fog.
"He's actually pretty frustrated,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She said it had been planned "for a little while," before the president left on his Asia trip. It was "something the president wanted to do."
Sanders said South Korean President Moon Jae-in was going to join Trump on the trip for a “historic moment.” She said she believed it would have been the first time a U.S. and South Korean president had visited the DMZ together.
“The effort shows the strong and important alliance between the two countries,” Sanders said.
Visiting the border that has separated the North and South for 64 years has become something of a ritual for U.S. presidents trying to demonstrate their resolve against North Korea's ever-escalating aggression. Every American president since Ronald Reagan, except for George H.W. Bush, has made the trip, peering across the barren north through binoculars, hearing broadcast propaganda and reaffirming their commitment to standing with the South.
Trump’s presence near the demarcation line that passes through the center of the 155-mile-long strip of land would have carried particular significance at a time when regional tensions are high over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
Trump will next fly to Beijing where he will hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Previewing his Beijing visit at a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday, Trump said that China and North Korea’s other giant neighbor, Russia, are among countries whose cooperation will be crucial in getting North Korea to rein in its nuclear and missile programs.
“President Xi ... has been very helpful. We’ll find out how helpful soon,” he said.