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DMZ Memo: Shrouded in Secrecy, Trump’s DMZ Trip Is Foiled by Fog

It was difficult to believe that Mr. Trump, a showman who makes little secret of his love of all things militaristic, would forego a chance to visit the site, a staple of presidential trips to the region in the past, particularly during a trip dominated by talks about how to confront the threat from North Korea.

But Mr. Moon did not want him to make the trip, officials said, perhaps worrying about allowing the famously unscripted Mr. Trump, who has insulted Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader, as “Little Rocket Man,” to a place where any errant remark would take on graver significance.


Mr. Trump’s motorcade after the canceled visit on Wednesday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Still, when Mr. Trump gave his toast on Tuesday night at a dinner with Mr. Moon at the Blue House, the presidential residence, he touched off another round of speculation about his plans.

“We’re going to have an exciting day tomorrow,” Mr. Trump said mysteriously, “for many reasons that people will find out.”

Later that night, the group of about a dozen reporters who made up the president’s traveling press pool for the next day received an off-the-record alert that they would be needed at 5:45 the next morning — four hours earlier than initially planned — and not to share the information with anyone. I quickly informed an editor that I suspected there might be a visit by Mr. Trump to the demilitarized zone the next day, but it was based on off-the-record information I could not share, and that could not be reported. There was little surprise among reporters the next morning when Ms. Sanders showed up with her makeshift sign.

The trip began auspiciously enough on Wednesday. Just after 7 a.m., we passed the presidential limousine known as the Beast and boarded buses to accompany Mr. Trump’s motorcade, which slipped quietly through the mostly empty streets. It was dark and foggy, a fact I noted in the pool report I was preparing for when the embargo lifted, without realizing its full significance.


Mr. Trump during a state dinner with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea in Seoul on Tuesday. Mr. Moon did not want him to make the DMZ trip, officials said. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

We boarded Chinook helicopters in a grassy field at Yongsan Garrison, the United States military base in Seoul, and were soon in the air, glimpsing skyscrapers and suspension bridges through the thick fog, often unable to see the ground below. The airmen on board had said the trip would take around 10 minutes, but we flew for more than twice that long before getting the word that we had had a “bad weather call,” meaning we would be unable to land.

“Too foggy,” a crew member in a leather bomber jacket mouthed, gesturing at the soup out the window.

Back at Yongsan, Ms. Sanders made it clear that Mr. Trump was disappointed and wanted to try the flight again once the fog cleared. We stood eyeing the atmosphere as the press secretary, wearing an Army Ranger’s borrowed camouflage jacket to stay warm, told us to sit tight. Rumors had started to circulate on Twitter and in the press filing center where reporters congregated that Mr. Trump was indeed headed to the DMZ, and I received emails from several colleagues asking what was up. But as long as there was a chance of going, we were told, the embargo was staying in place.

After an hour, it was official: The trip was off.

As for Mr. Moon, he was left waiting in vain for Mr. Trump to arrive at the DMZ for what White House officials said would have been the first joint visit to the area by an American president and a South Korean president. According to Mr. Moon’s office, the fog forced his helicopter to land short of the DMZ, and he completed the trip by car.

“He’s pretty frustrated,” Ms. Sanders said of Mr. Trump. “You guys saw how bad the fog was going in; there wasn’t enough visibility to land. It would have been really dangerous.”

The president, she said, had gotten within five minutes or less of his destination.

Source: NYT > World

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