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Trump kissed Melania good-bye before botched visit to DMZ: Woodward book

All News 07:50 September 14, 2020

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump believed he might not return from his attempted trip to the heavily fortified inter-Korean border in late 2017, a soon-to-be-released book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward showed.

Trump still braved a visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), though bad weather eventually forced him to return to safety, according to excerpts of the book, "Rage," obtained by Yonhap News Agency.

"They know I'm coming, don't they?" Trump had asked referring to North Korea when his Marine One helicopter slowed while en route to the DMZ on Nov. 8, 2017 (Seoul time), according to the book.

Woodward said the pilot had to slow down due to a heavy fog that was like "pea soup."

The photo, taken Nov. 7, 2017, shows U.S. President Donald Trump disembarking from a helicopter after arriving at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, on Nov. 7, 2017, one day before he made a failed attempt to visit the Demilitarized Zone. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

Gen. Vincent Brooks, then serving as the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, assured there was no intelligence that indicated North Korea knew about Trump's visit to the Joint Security Area, also known as Panmunjom, inside the DMZ.

"I got up this morning, and told Melania, kissed her goodbye, and said, 'I might not see you again.' It's not that I'm worried about myself," Trump was quoted as telling those aboard his helicopter then.

"If something were to happen to the president of the United States, it would be the worst thing that could happen to us as a country," Trump had added, according to the book, set to be released Tuesday.

Trump was later forced to turn around as the weather never cleared, Woodward writes.

Trump's failed attempt to visit the DMZ in 2017 and reasons for the failure were well publicized on the very day of his attempted trip as his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, had sought to join him in the DMZ but also had to make a U-turn due to the same reasons.

Still, the fresh account of the incident offers how risky Trump thought it was, due to the nature of the visit itself.

His attempted visit came at the height of North Korean provocations, as well as the peak of U.S-North Korea tensions that followed the communist state's sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date in September of that year.

North Korea is said to have nearly 70 percent of its military assets and capabilities stationed in and around the DMZ, a 2-kilometer-wide buffer zone on each side of the Korean Military Demarcation Line that separates the two Koreas.

Trump conceded to the decision to return based on safety reasons but worried it would make him look weak, according to Woodward.

"I know you guys have got to make the decision. You've got to make a safety decision," he was quoted as saying before adding, "This is going to make us look weak."

Less than two years later in June 2019, however, Trump did make it to the DMZ and was greeted by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un there.

The historic Panmunjom meeting between Trump and Kim came after two bilateral summits they held in June 2018 and February 2019, which also marked the first and second-ever U.S.-North Korea summits.

In the photo, taken June 30, 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un cross the Military Demarcation Line into the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area after holding brief talks on the North Korean side, making Trump the first sitting U.S. president to step onto North Korean soil. (Yonhap)

During his 2019 visit to Panmunjom, Trump also became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea when he briefly crossed over to the communist state at its leader's invitation.

"It was an honor to cross into your country and to resume our important discussion," Trump later said in his letter to Kim, dated July 2 of the same year, according to Woodward.

Woodward says he obtained 27 letters exchanged between the two leaders, 25 of which have not been reported before.

On Aug. 5 of that year, Kim wrote back to Trump, in which he expressed anger over joint military drills held between the U.S. and South Korea, especially ahead of working-level negotiations between his country and the U.S. to possibly set up a third U.S.-North Korea summit.

Working-level officials from the U.S. and North Korea met in Sweden in early October, but the talks failed to produce progress, with North Korea declaring there will be no more talks until the U.S. withdraws what it called its anti-Pyongyang policy.

The countries have yet to resume their dialogue.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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