President Donald Trump attempted to make a surprise visit to the Demilitarized Zone Tuesday — the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea — but was forced to turn back due to bad weather.
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Thick gray fog blanketing Seoul hampered the president’s flight on Marine One, which officials said flew from the Yongsan Garrison military post toward the DMZ but was forced to turn back just five minutes from the landing zone.
The Secret Service and U.S. military made the decision to abort the trip for safety, an administration official said.
Jonathan Ernst/ReutersWhite House Chief of Staff John Kelly looks at notes while huddling with White House senior staff to discuss the situation after being grounded from an attempt to visit the DMZ, at a U.S. military post in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 8, 2017.
The visit was shrouded in secrecy to protect the president’s safety. “This is where we’re going,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders quietly told a small group of reporters invited to join the mission. She held up a piece of notepaper on which the letters “DMZ” were scrawled. The group was told they could not report the visit publicly until it was over.
Trump was joined by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Gen. Vincent Brooks, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea.
A joint visit to the DMZ by an American and South Korean president would have been a “historic moment” that has never happened before, the White House said.
Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty ImagesVice President Mike Pence visits Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between North and South Korea with his daughters Audrey and Charlotte, and U.S. Gen. Vincent Brooks, right, April 17, 2017.
The White House previously said that Trump would not be going to the DMZ, citing time constraints and calling any potential visit a “cliché.” Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have all recently visited the DMZ.
Trump was disappointed and pretty frustrated by not being able to complete the secret trip, Sanders told reporters.
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The news of the president’s attempted visit comes amid his heightened war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and as Trump prepares to call on the international community to maximize pressure on North Korea.
Trump previously declined to say whether he would travel to the DMZ during his Asia tour, telling reporters, “You’ll be surprised.”
Earlier on the trip, Trump said he sees progress in the steps his administration has taken with regard to North Korea, suggesting he could “make a deal” with the regime, but would not say whether he still believes direct talks are a waste of time.