President Donald Trump is considering a trip to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea, according to a report from South Korean news agency Yonhap, and he is planning to send a message to North Korea, either “verbally or kinetically.”
This would be Trump’s first trip to the Korean Peninsula as President.
A defense source who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Yonhap that President Trump might visit the DMZ while he is visiting South Korea in early November, and the White House had “dispatched an advance team of working-level officials in late September to check candidate sites for Trump’s ‘special activity’ here.”
“They looked around Panmunjom and Observation Post [OP] Ouellette,” the source said, Yonhap reported. “Trump will likely do something like that [send a message] and his aides are making the relevant preparations.”
Trump is slated to visit Japan, South Korea, China Vietnam and the Philippines in November.
Panmunjom is a truce village located inside the DMZ where North Korea soldiers are armed and within throwing distance – literally.
Former President Barack Obama visited the hilltop border post OP in 2012 and observed North Korea with binoculars, and in 2010, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates had toured Panmunjom.
Tensions run high in the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ, where U.S. troops are sandwiched between North and South Korea. The rift between the countries has been ongoing since 1950 – which makes it the longest war on paper since World War II.
Accounts from those who have been to the DMZ report that it feels like a “Cold War theme park.”
There is a fake village on the North Korean side of the zone, where propaganda is blasted through loudspeakers.
On the South Korean side, tourists cram onto an observation deck to see it all.
While that feeling might be very surreal, the reality is that there are 10,000 artillery pieces that observes can’t see on the North Korean side, aimed at Seoul, the South Korean capital that is only 30 miles away from the DMZ. War planners estimate that 500,000 people could be killed in a second Korean War.
At Osan Air Base, very close to Seoul, Korean airmen and Americans monitor all activity north of the DMZ.
Guard Post 4, a citadel near the DMZ, is where U.S. troops are stationed, under General Vincent Brooks, the current commander of the United States Forces Korea, United Nations Command and ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command.
Brooks has made it overwhelmingly clear that the U.S. is ready at a second’s notice to aggressively and overwhelmingly respond to any serious North Korean action.
North Korea has said it has at least 10 nuclear weapons, and that its intercontinental missiles could carry a ballistic missile, according to leader Kim Jong Un; the country has already tested multiple missiles this year.
While Trump’s visit would not be unprecedented, it would come during a time when the U.S.’ relationship with North Korea is being put through a stress test laden with threats and aggressive rhetoric back and forth.