The White House took pains to shroud the trip in secrecy, barring reporters traveling with him from divulging it until it had ended, but as the Marine One helicopter drew close to the demilitarized zone, dense fog prevented it from landing, sending a frustrated president back to Seoul.
The aborted stop left Mr. Trump without a powerful image to end his visit to South Korea, devised in part to turn down the temperature on tensions in the region.
After a day of private meetings and public bonding with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who was elected promising a shift toward dialogue with the North, Mr. Trump — who as recently as last month tweeted that direct talks were a “waste of time” — said on Tuesday that it would be in the North’s interest to “come to the table and to make a deal.”
And instead of threatening muscular pre-emptive action against the North, Mr. Trump said he prayed that using military force would not be necessary.
“I think we’re making a lot of progress, I think we’re showing great strength, I think they understand we have unparalleled strength,” Mr. Trump said of the North during a news conference with Mr. Moon. Noting that the United States military has positioned three aircraft carriers and a nuclear submarine in the Pacific, he added: “We have many things happening that we hope, we hope — in fact, I’ll go a step further — we hope to God we never have to use.”
When pressed by a reporter, Mr. Trump declined to say whether he still thought negotiations with North Korea would be a waste of time, making an uncharacteristic effort to avoid a remark that might have inflamed simmering hostility.
“I don’t want to say that — I just don’t want to say that,” Mr. Trump said. “You can understand.”
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His visit to Seoul was the most diplomatically challenging leg of Mr. Trump’s 12-day, five-country trip through Asia, bringing him face to face with a public and a president wary of his combative approach on North Korea. To many of Mr. Moon’s progressive supporters, Mr. Trump poses as much of a threat to peace as Mr. Kim, if not more so.
“Don’t come, Trump! You talk about war whenever you open your mouth,” a large banner read during a protest near the United States Embassy in Seoul on Tuesday. “Go away, Trump!” hundreds of labor activists and other progressives shouted in downtown Seoul, where thousands of police officers were deployed to keep security. “No Trump, no war!”
A short distance away, across a police blockade, hundreds of conservatives welcomed Mr. Trump with South Korean and American flags. South Korean conservatives are skeptical of Mr. Moon’s approach, calling it naïve. They back Mr. Trump’s hawkish view of the North, but they, too, stop short of supporting war.
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