© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: South Korean and U.S. troopers stand guard within the truce village of Panmunjom contained in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the 2 Koreas, South Korea, July 19, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool/File Picture
By Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) -When U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris makes an anticipated go to to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the 2 Koreas on Thursday, she would be the newest in a protracted listing of dignitaries – and vacationers – coming to gaze into secretive North Korea.
The DMZ is a relic of the 1950-1953 Korean Struggle, which resulted in an armistice somewhat than a peace treaty, and regardless of its identify, is very fortified from coast to coast with razor wire, heavy armaments and tank traps on both aspect of a 4 km-wide buffer.
It is a image of a divided peninsula, separated households, geopolitical stress, and bloody army clashes. The realm has additionally change into a surreal vacationer vacation spot, with outlet malls, theme parks, mountain climbing trails, and different sights, at the least on the South Korean aspect.
U.S. presidents and quite a few prime officers have visited the zone, usually sporting military-style jackets and often arriving with messages of assist for the alliance that retains almost 30,000 American troops in South Korea.
“It is symbolic in that these guys wish to present that they’re within the DMZ and the safety of the peninsula, and it’s a bucket listing merchandise as properly,” Steve Tharp, a retired U.S. Military officer who spent years facilitating DMZ visits by everybody from politicians and generals to the American comic Conan O’Brien, who filmed a skit on the North Korean aspect of the border.
Ronald Reagan was the primary U.S. president to go to the DMZ, however Invoice Clinton and Donald Trump are the one sitting presidents to have visited the Joint Safety Space (JSA), a cluster of buildings that hosts talks, and the one spot the place troops from either side stand head to head, he mentioned.
When Clinton visited in 1993, he walked to the Bridge of No Return, which spans the Navy Demarcation Line (MDL) that kinds the border, and bought its identify when prisoners of battle marched throughout it.
Clinton – who as soon as referred to as the DMZ “the scariest place on Earth” – reportedly stored asking whether or not he’d gone additional than every other president, Tharp mentioned.
He had. At the very least till Trump grew to become the primary U.S. president to step briefly into North Korea, when he met chief Kim Jong Un on the border in 2019 for unexpectedly organized talks that finally did not breath life into stalled denuclearisation talks.
“He tweeted from Japan on a Saturday about 8 a.m. and he arrived 24 hours later and was within the DMZ by 1:30 p.m. and walked throughout the MDL to satisfy Kim Jong Un,” a former senior U.S. defence official mentioned.
“That was sporty, however we had a fantastic staff and it went off with no hitch.”
George W. Bush had been scheduled to go to on his first journey to South Korea as president in late 2001, however the Sept. 11 assaults derailed the plan and when he lastly visited the following yr, it was to an remark put up set again from the border and guarded with a bulletproof glass defend, Tharp mentioned.
Harris would be the first senior official from President Joe Biden’s administration to go to the DMZ, and U.S. and South Korean officers mentioned the journey is geared toward underscoring the alliance between Seoul and Washington within the face of any threats posed by North Korea.
“It sends a transparent message of assist for the alliance from the White Home,” the previous senior official mentioned.
Biden visited the DMZ earlier than he grew to become president however determined to not go throughout his first journey to South Korea as president this yr.
Over the past spherical of heightened tensions in 2017, then-U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited the DMZ, calling it the “frontier of freedom” and later saying he visited as a result of he needed the North Koreans to “see our resolve in my face”.
North Korea has remoted itself greater than ever for the reason that COVID-19 pandemic started and its border guards on the DMZ not often enterprise out, usually donning protecting fits once they do.
Weeds have overgrown the North Korean aspect of the road between the 2 Koreas the place Trump and Kim stood shaking fingers in 2019.