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Fact-checking Trump’s claim the DMZ is no longer ‘very dangerous’

Posted at 5:15 PM, Jul 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-01 19:46:07-04

During his recent visit to South Korea, President Donald Trump made some sweeping remarks over the level of safety along the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

While it’s unclear what area of the DMZ Trump was referencing, he claimed that it became safer after his summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June 2018.

“It used to be very dangerous, very, very dangerous,” Trump said of the DMZ on Sunday, citing a briefing from officials. “After our first summit, all of the danger went away. It’s a much different place.”

Facts First: The President appears to be incorrectly taking credit for an agreement between North and South Korea that removed weapons and guard posts from one specific area on the DMZ. North Korea’s military operations along the DMZ have not been removed or decreased.

During an inter-Korean summit in September 2018, the defense ministers of North and South Korea signed the Comprehensive Military Agreement, which removed all weapons from the Joint Security Area — a small section of the DMZ where diplomats of the two countries meet and which soldiers of both sides constantly monitor.

The agreement also took down almost two dozen guard posts, created a no-fly zone and began a landmine removal process.

The agreement was not part of the Singapore summit and did not involve Trump. Experts also believe the agreement was largely symbolic and did not reduce the level of danger in the DMZ as Trump claimed.

“There’s nothing that indicates that,” Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN. “The steps the North and South agreed on are pretty symbolic.”

North Korea’s artillery and missile launchers pointed at Seoul have not been pulled back, Green said. He also noted that North Korea has one of the largest chemical and biological arsenals in the world.

“They haven’t ceased cyberattacks, they haven’t ceased their 100,000 special forces or in any way demobilized their million-man army,” Green added.

According to experts, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal continues to expand despite the agreement reached by Kim Jong Un and Trump at the Singapore summit last year.

“Along the DMZ, North Korea’s military forces are still in place,” Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow and Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation, told CNN. “There’s been no decrease in the North Korean military threat whatsoever.”

Klingner noted that in the year since the Singapore summit it’s believed North Korea has built six more nuclear weapons. “The threat has not decreased. In one area of that DMZ (the Joint Security Area) we’ve had a few tactical-level, security-building measures.”

While removing weapons, agreeing to a no-fly order and destroying a few guard posts may help decrease the likelihood of accidents in the Joint Security Area, it in no way means that the “danger” along the DMZ “went away” as Trump claimed.