Trump arrives in Seoul, tours Camp Humphreys military base on eve of North Korea speech


President Trump talks to military personnel at  Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, while South Korean President Moon Jae-In looks on. (AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL — President Trump arrived in South Korea on Tuesday and toured Camp Humphreys, the third military base he has visited since leaving Washington on a 12-day trip to the Asia Pacific as he prepares to deliver a major speech on North Korea.

The president landed at the $11 billion base, 40 miles south of Seoul, on Marine One and, after saluting several commanding officers on the tarmac, took his motorcade to the mess hall to have lunch with troops. He sat down on a bench at a long table in between soldiers dressed in green military fatigues. Trump was accompanied by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Wearing a navy-blue suit and bright solid blue tie, Trump smiled and waved at reporters. As he ate, a military color guard prepared to welcome him at the Blue House, Moon’s official residence in Seoul. Trump and Moon are expected to make statements to reporters Tuesday after they hold bilateral meetings.

“Ultimately, it will all work out. It always works out. It has to work out,” Trump said at the start of a briefing with military commanders at the base, referring to the standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

The tour of Camp Humphreys, on the heels of Trump’s visits to Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo and Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, comes ahead of Trump’s address to the South Korean National Assembly on Wednesday. Aides said the speech will be a chance for Trump to rally international support for his campaign to increase economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang.

“The United States remains committed to the complete, verifiable, and permanent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” McMaster said last week. “President Trump will reiterate the plain fact that North Korea threatens not just our allies, South Korea and Japan, and the United States — North Korea is a threat to the entire world. So all nations of the world must do more to counter that threat.”

But South Koreans are on edge for Trump’s visit, and police have worked to keep protesters at bay. Trump has low public approval numbers here amid concerns that the president’s heated rhetoric toward dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime could lead to a military confrontation. The president has emphasized that military options remain on the table, though he declined to be specific.

Foreign policy analysts said the stakes are high for Trump to deliver a speech that clearly spells out his administration’s North Korea policy. The administration has made progress in ramping up pressure on the North, but analysts said many in Seoul, as well as Tokyo and Beijing, remain confused because Trump and his senior aides have offered mixed messages.

“People want clarification,” said a former State Department official who worked on Asian affairs during the Obama administration. He spoke on condition of anonymity because his current job outside government did not allow him to speak on the record. “There’s a lot of nervousness in South Korea.”

Camp Humphreys is located in Pyeongtaek, a sleepy rural city that was chosen because it is outside the range of much of the North’s heavy artillery trained on Seoul, where the previous base was located. Recent U.S. presidents have visited the heavily guarded Korean demilitarized zone, but Trump aides said Moon invited the president to tour Camp Humphreys instead. The move was made in part over concerns that a DMZ visit would ratchet up tensions with the North at a time when the Moon government is preparing to host the Winter Olympics early next year.

A senior administration official said Trump will use his speech to highlight the North Korean regime’s long history of human rights abuses — on its own people and abroad. Trump lashed out at Kim after the North released Otto Warmbier, an American college student who had been detained for 17 months, comatose. Warmbier died shortly after arriving home in Ohio.

In the speech, there will be “some focus on the often-overlooked question of the human rights conditions of North Korea,” said the administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record in a briefing for reporters in Tokyo on Sunday. “I heard one journalist recently described it as the most totalitarian state in the history of humankind. I don’t think that’s an overstatement.”

The official added that “whether it’s bombing airliners or terrorist attacks abroad, or the hundreds of attacks that have taken place over the decades against U.S. and South Korean personnel, or the abductions of Japanese citizens and, of course, South Koreans who have been abducted over the years as well — it would take a lifetime to be able to meet with all of the people who have been victimized by that regime and are still alive to talk about it.”

In Tokyo on Monday, Trump met with the families of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korean agents four decades ago to help the regime learn the Japanese language and culture. Five abductees were release more than a decade ago but at least a dozen remain in the North, according to the Japanese government.

In a news conference Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump dismissed suggestions that his rhetoric has created more risk for the United States and its allies. Trump vowed during a United Nations address in September that his administration is prepared to “totally destroy” the North if necessary, and he has dubbed Kim the “Little Rocket Man” in a series of tweets.

“Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong, but look what’s happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years,” Trump said. “Look where we are right now.”

Yet as he has traveled to the region, Trump also has offered notes of encouragement for North Korea citizens, calling them “great people.”

“They’re under a very repressive regime, and I really think that, ultimately, I hope it all works out,” he said.

 

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