Saturday 21 April 2018

US president will not visit demilitarised zone on trip

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: Reuters

Jill Colvin

US President Donald Trump will not be visiting the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea on his upcoming Asia tour.

A senior White House official said to NBC that visiting has "become a little bit of a cliché" after Vice President Mike Pence, Defence Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also visited the site at the centre of growing tensions with Pyongyang.

Last week Mr Trump had hinted he would go: "Well, I'd rather not say, but you'll be surprised."

Past presidents have visited the 4km-wide zone separating the Korean peninsula as a sign of solidarity with Seoul.

However, following Mr Trump's interactions with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, some experts feared his presence in the DMZ could further inflame an already-contentious diplomatic relationship.

Also yesterday, South Korea and China announced that they will work to improve their relationship, which has been badly strained by the deployment of the American THAAD missile defence system, with Seoul saying their leaders are set to hold talks next week.

The thaw in relations comes amid increased regional tensions over North Korea's nuclear ambitions and ahead of Mr Trump's scheduled visit to both countries next week as part of his first Asian tour.

China and South Korea recently agreed that they should soon normalise their relations and boost cooperation for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

It said Beijing reaffirmed its opposition to THAAD and asked South Korea to handle "relevant issues appropriately".

South Korea said military officials of the two countries will discuss Chinese worries about the THAAD system.

Seoul's presidential office announced separately that President Moon Jae-in and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold summit talks next week on the sidelines of a regional forum in Vietnam. It would be their second one-on-one meeting since Mr Moon's inauguration in May.

The move to thaw relations comes as China grows increasingly frustrated with North Korea, which has relied on Beijing as its main trading partner. As North Korea's last major diplomatic ally, China's cooperation is seen as crucial to the success of international sanctions on the North's weapons programmes.

Irish Independent

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