CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — President Donald Trump flew into South Korea and met with U.S. troops stationed there on Tuesday, the closest he has come to the frontlines of the nuclear standoff with North Korea, on a visit that could further aggravate tensions with Pyongyang.
Landing at Osan Air Base outside Seoul, the president and First Lady Melania Trump stepped down from Air Force One onto a red carpet as he began his 24-hour visit with a military honor guard and 21-gun salute.
He then flew by helicopter to Camp Humphreys, the largest U.S. military installation in the country.
The White House says Trump’s trip is intended to demonstrate U.S. resolve over his hardline approach to the North Korean nuclear and missile threats, but many in the region fear further bellicose presidential rhetoric could increase the potential for a devastating military conflict on the Korean peninsula.
Rare show of U.S. force in Asia
Three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups will exercise together in the Western Pacific in the coming days in a show of force rarely seen in the region, U.S. officials said, as Trump continues his Asia tour aimed at warning North Korea and forging a united front against it and developing trade.
Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. resolutions and an exchange of bellicose insults between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have raised the stakes in the most critical international challenge of Trump’s presidency.
On the second leg of his five-nation trip, Trump toured the sprawling Camp Humphreys garrison, which lies about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the border with reclusive North Korea.
Trump was met by a line of camouflage-clad U.S. and South Korean military officers and entered a mess hall to applause from the troops. South Korean President Moon Jae-in flew in to greet him at the base.
Trump is seeking to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang following his visit to Tokyo, where he declared that Japan would shoot North Korean missiles “out of the sky” if it bought the U.S. weaponry needed to do so, suggesting the Japanese government take a stance it has avoided until now.
United front against North Korea
The South Korea leg of Trump’s trip is an effort to present a united front despite differences with Moon over how to confront North Korea, as well as Trump’s complaints over the two countries’ trade agreement and South Korean defense spending.
Trump has rattled some U.S. allies with his vow to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the United States, for deriding Kim as a “Rocket Man on a suicide mission” and for dismissing as pointless any diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang.
Kim, who has also made clear he has little interest in negotiations, at least until North Korea develops a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States, has called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”
South Korea’s spy agency said last week that North Korea may be preparing another missile test, raising speculation that such a launch could be timed for Trump’s trip to the region or even during his visit to Seoul.
U.S. officials have said privately that intercepting a test missile is among options under consideration, though there is disagreement within the administration about the risks.
In Beijing, where Trump travel later in the week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying urged all sides to help reduce tensions and reestablish mutual trust to try to get back on the path to negotiations.