Watched by North Korean border guards, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson inspected the scene of tense confrontation across the world's last Cold War frontier Friday on the first leg of his trip to South Korea.
Aboard a UH-60 Blak Hawk helicopter, Tillerson flew to the truce village of Panmunjom shortly after he arrived at a US air base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, following a visit to Japan.
There was no official message from Tillerson when he inspected Bonifas, a front-line American camp, to have lunch with US soldiers guarding Panmunjom, a joint security area in the middle of the demilitarized zone which bisects the Korean peninsula.
Tension runs high in and around the truce village due to sabre-rattling by North Korea over a major spring military exercise launched by US and South Korean troops this month. On March 6, North Korea fired four missiles into waters near Japan in a drill allegedly aimed at wiping out US bases in Japan with nuclear weapons.
There are about 28,000 US troops stationed in South Korea. Extra US military assets and personnel came from abroad for the annual exercise that Washington and Seoul insist are purely defensive in nature. Pyongyang has shown an allergic response to the exercise, condemning it as provocative rehearsals for an attack.
In Panmunjom, Tillerson was briefed on the security situation along the inter-Korean border and walked along an imaginary demarcation line there, watched by North Korean soldiers who took pictures of his entourage, Yonhap News Agency said.
Later in Seoul, the secretary is to meet Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn who serves as acting head of state on behalf of South Korea's ousted leader Park Geun-hye, and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
Tillerson's visit is part of his three-country Asian tour that will also take him to China. After meeting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, he said that US efforts over the past 20 years to denuclearize the North have failed, calling for a "new approach" in dealing with Pyongyang.
Lim Chang-won = email@example.com