Trump heads to South Korea amid nuclear tensions with North
North Korea has raised alarms with its ballistic missile and nuclear program.
— -- President Trump departs Japan for South Korea Tuesday in what will be the second stop of his five-country Asia tour that comes amid heightened tensions with North Korea.
While the issue of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions looms large over the entirety of the president’s tour of the region, the visit to Seoul will bring the president within the closest proximity to Pyongyang as he will come this trip.
While there, the president will receive a red carpet welcome with a state dinner in his honor, deliver a major speech to the South Korean legislature, meet with President Moon Jae-In, visit a U.S. military base, and pay his respects to fallen service members with a visit to the National Cemetery.
Over the course of two days in South Korea, a senior administration official said the president will “highlight the enduring strength of the U.S. and Republic of Korea alliance, which is stronger than ever in the face of North Korea's aggression” over the course of the two-day visit to South Korea.
One notable hole in the president’s itinerary: He will not visit the highly fortified demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. A senior administration official downplayed the significance of skipping a visit to the demilitarized zone, saying it has become “a little bit of a cliche” to make the visit.
"The president is not going to visit the DMZ. There is not enough time in the schedule. It would have had to be the DMZ or Camp Humphreys," a senior administration official told reporters in a briefing last Tuesday. "It made more sense in terms of messaging."
The White House said this gives the president a chance to address U.S. and South Korean troops and to highlight South Korea's role in sharing the burden of supporting the alliance. The stop at Camp Humphreys is also significant in that it will be the president’s second visit to a U.S. base on just the third day of his tour of the region, driving home the president’s message of military might and readiness in the region.
“No one, no dictator, no regime, and no nation should underestimate ever American resolve,” the president said during his visit to Yokota Air Base upon first arriving in the Japan on Sunday, without directly naming Kim Jong Un. “Every once in a while in the past they underestimated us. It was not pleasant for them. Was it?”
The White House has said not to expect the president to moderate his language on North Korea even as he tours the region.
“I don't think the president really modulates his language. Have you noticed him do that?” the president’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters last week in advance of the president’s trip.
The president has repeatedly derided North Korea’s leader, pejoratively referring to him as “little rocket man” and famously threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury” and total annihilation should the regime seriously threaten the U.S. or a close ally.
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” the president said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in September as he warned Kim Jong Un against advancing “on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
Even though White House advisers say there will be no attempt to mince words, the president has so far abstained during the trip from some of his more provocative threats against Pyongyang. But the administration is seeking to deliver a message to Pyonyang through the president's trip that the U.S. is standing guard in the region in lockstep with regional allies and ready to return fire for fire if needed.
The president’s core objective: The total nuclear disarmament of the Korean Peninsula.
“The President's strategy -- and this strategy is in complete alignment with our allies, South Korea and Japan, and, increasingly, the entire world -- is to maximize pressure,” a senior official told reporters in Japan on Sunday. “It is a diplomatic and economic campaign to maximize pressure on North Korea, to show -- really to convince the leadership in North Korea that the one way out for them is to start reducing the threat and to move toward denuclearization.”
It’s a message that was already echoed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Monday, with the prime minister saying Japan is “100 percent” united with the United States in strategy and the need to apply strong pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its provocative behavior of missile launches and nuclear exploration.
ABC News' Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.
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