Fog stops Trump’s attempt to make unannounced visit to demilitarised zone

White House senior staff discuss the situation as US President Donald Trump sits in his car after being grounded from an attempt to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the truce village of Panmunjom dividing North Korea and South Korea.
White House senior staff discuss the situation as US President Donald Trump sits in his car after being grounded from an attempt to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the truce village of Panmunjom dividing North Korea and South Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (looking at notes) huddles with White House senior staff to discuss the situation.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (looking at notes) huddles with White House senior staff to discuss the situation.PHOTO: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump sits in his car after being grounded from an attempt to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the truce village of Panmunjom dividing North Korea and South Korea.
US President Donald Trump sits in his car after being grounded from an attempt to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the truce village of Panmunjom dividing North Korea and South Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS, AFP)- US President Donald Trump attempted on Wednesday (Nov 8) morning to go to the heavily-fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North Korea and South Korea, but had to turn back because of bad weather.

Trump left his hotel in Seoul early in the morning and went to the Yongsan military base in the city, but the helicopter flight to the DMZ had to be called off due to fog, according to a pool report.

"The skyscrapers and dense neighbourhoods of Seoul were barely visible through thick fog as we lifted," according to the pool report.

Trump's helicopter Marine One took off from Yongsan, but was forced to turn back. They waited nearly an hour for conditions to improve, but the weather worsened instead and the trip was abandoned.

Trump was disappointed and pretty frustrated he had to turn back on the attempted visit to the DMZ, according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

The pool report said the reporters travelling with him were summoned earlier than originally scheduled on Wednesday morning. They were briefed by Sanders about the president's surprise trip to the DMZ.

"This is where we're going," Sanders said, holding up a piece of notepaper on which the letters "DMZ" were scrawled.

She said that was the way she had been instructed to alert the pool to the destination. She said all movements were to be under embargo until the president landed in Seoul following the visit.

She said the President Moon Jae In of South Korea was going to join Trump there, a "historic moment" because she believes it would have been the first time a US and South Korean president had visited the DMZ together.

"The effort shows the strong and importance of the alliance between the two countries," Sanders said.

Moon had flown to the border earlier, before the weather closed in, the South’s presidential office said according to reports, and was left waiting for Trump at a guard post on the frontline.

The joint trip to the DMZ was proposed by Moon during their bilateral summit on Tuesday.

The White House had previously said the US President would not go to the symbolic spot.

"The President is not going to visit the DMZ," a White House official briefing reporters ahead of the trip had said, explaining that "there is not enough time in the schedule" and that visiting the DMZ has become "a little bit of a cliché."

US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis have all visited the DMZ this year on separate trips.

South Korea is the second leg of Trump's five-nation trip which took him to Japan from Sunday to Tuesday. He is travelling to China later on Wednesday.

He began his 24-hour visit to South Korea when he landed at Osan Air Base outside Seoul on Tuesday. He then flew by helicopter to Camp Humphreys, the largest US military base in the country, and met US and South Korean troops, along with President Moon. Camp Humphreys garrison lies about 100 km from the border.

“We are going to have an exciting day tomorrow for many reasons that people will find out,” Trump said at a state dinner on Tuesday, without elaborating. 

Standing alongside Moon on Tuesday, he reiterated that he was prepared to use the full range of American military might to halt Pyongyang’s march towards becoming a full-fledged nuclear power. 

The White House says Trump's trip is intended to demonstrate US resolve over his hardline approach to the North Korean nuclear and missile threats, but many in the region fear further bellicose presidential rhetoric could increase the potential for a devastating military conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Meeting military commanders about the North Korea issue, Trump told reporters: "Ultimately it will all work out, it always works out, it has to work out". He did not elaborate.

Three US aircraft carrier strike groups will exercise together in the Western Pacific in the coming days in a show of force rarely seen in the region, US officials said.