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article imageTrump won't go to DMZ during S. Korea visit: White House

By AFP     Oct 31, 2017 in World

US President Donald Trump will not be going to the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean peninsula when he visits South Korea next week, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

The decision to skip the DMZ at a time of high tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea was attributed to time constraints.

"The president is not going to visit the DMZ, there is not enough time in the schedule," the official said.

Trump, who departs Friday on a five-nation Asian tour with world attention on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, will instead visit Camp Humphreys, which is south of Seoul and away from the DMZ, the official said.

The DMZ, a razor's edge separating North and South Korean forces, is a common stop for visiting presidents and other high-level US officials wanting to see one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints.

But the senior administration official downplayed the decision not to go.

"We just had Secretary Mattis there last week, we had Vice President Pence there earlier this year," the official said, referring to Pentagon chief Jim Mattis and Trump's number two, Mike Pence.

"It's becoming a little bit of a cliche, frankly."

Contrary to what its name suggests, the DMZ is the most heavily militarized strip of land on the planet.

Located a few dozen miles north of the South Korean capital Seoul, the 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) wide terrain stretches for 151 miles and bristles with electric fences, minefields and anti-tank barriers.

A visit by any US leader to the DMZ -- described by former president Bill Clinton as "the scariest place on Earth" -- is widely seen as a show of solidarity in the face of threats from the North.

Although the senior administration official stressed that only a "minority" of US leaders had visited the DMZ, it has become an almost indispensable part of any US president's tour of the region.

Since Ronald Reagan visited in 1983, only George H.W. Bush has failed to make the trek to the tense frontier.

Trump's 12-day swing through Asia -- his first as president -- is the longest presidential visit to the region since Bush in 1991.

The US administration has sent out mixed messages amid escalating tensions with Pyongyang, which has threatened to fire missiles toward the US military base in the Pacific island of Guam.

During a recent visit to China, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted that diplomatic channels were open to the North, only to be quickly undermined by his boss.

"I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," Trump said on Twitter, using his derogatory nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

"Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done."

Trump will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 8, the official said, and will discuss closer cooperation with Beijing in tackling the crisis with North Korea.

"The Chinese have done a great deal. They've done more than I think many expected they would do. And the US is working more closely with China on the North Korea problem than ever. That said, there is clearly more that China could do," the US official said.

After visits to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing, Trump will go to Vietnam and the Philippines to take part in regional summits.

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