White House Divided Over Whether Trump Should Visit Kim Jong Un’s Doorstep During Asia Visit

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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President Donald Trump is reportedly considering visiting the demilitarized zone (DMZ) during his upcoming Asia trip, following in the footsteps of his predecessors.

Trump is preparing for a 12-day trip to the Asia Pacific in November that will take him to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, China, and Vietnam, and during the visit to Korea, he is expected to visit the tense inter-Korean border, raising concerns about the president’s safety. Some White House staff believe that a trip to the DMZ is risky, while others suggest that such a visit sends a clear message about America’s resolve to U.S. allies and enemies alike, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Trump revealed Monday in the Rose Garden that he is “taking a look” at visiting the DMZ, but he declined to say for certain whether he would go, introducing that the South Korea trip is still being planned. White House personnel are reportedly making preparations for such a visit, South Korean defense sources recently told Yonhap News Agency. (RELATED: REPORT: Trump May Visit The DMZ On His Trip To Korea)

All but one president since Ronald Reagan has visited the DMZ, and the messages delivered there tend to be much more powerful, given the nature of the zone.

“The DMZ functions as a kind of amplifier,” Daniel Russel, the former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs during the Obama administration, told WaPo. “The message takes on a more martial and ominous tone when it comes out of a military command post on North Korea’s doorstep.”

Tensions have been running high between Washington and Pyongyang since Trump’s United Nations speech, during which he warned that the U.S. will “totally destroy” North Korea if the rogue regime forces America’s hand. The president received significant criticism, even though past presidents have made similar statements. For instance, former President Bill Clinton warned during his trip to the DMZ that the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea against another state would “be the end of their country.”

Trump’s speech did get Pyongyang’s attention, prompting a personal response from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who aggressively threatened to “tame” Trump “with fire.”

The upcoming trip is an opportunity for the Trump administration to reassure allies in an unstable region that they can count on the U.S. in a crisis. It is also an opportunity to send a message to regional challengers.

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both visited the DMZ during their respective visits to South Korea, with the former asserting that he wanted North Korea to see the seriousness of America’s convictions.

“I thought it was important that people on the other side of the DMZ see our resolve in my face,” he revealed to the Washington Post in April, a little over a week after another war scare.

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