- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Following North Korea’s overtures of reconciliation beginning in January, the regime has made several diplomatic moves to indicate it is willing to resume talks between the US and neighboring South Korea.
After sending a delegation of athletes and members of the ruling family to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, North Korea has made significant strides in thawing relations – though some political observers remain skeptical of the regime’s motives.
Here are the latest developments between the US, South Korea, and North Korea:
During her trip to South Korea, Kim Yo Jong — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister — delivered a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The letter indicated a willingness to foster better relations between the Koreas. There was also an invitation to visit Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.
- KCNA/via REUTERS
Kim Yo Jong’s trip to South Korea marked the first time since the Korean War that a ruling family member of the North Korean regime visited the country.
- REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
North Korea then sent Kim Yong Chol, the country’s vice chairman of the ruling Worker’s Party Central Committee and the country’s former intelligence chief, to South Korea for the Closing Ceremony at the Winter Olympics. Following Yo Jong’s lead, Yong Chol also delivered a bombshell announcement: that North Korea was willing to hold diplomatic talks with the US.
- Patrick Semansky/Reuters
Source: Yonhap News
Meanwhile, the US imposed additional punitive measures against North Korea. The new restrictions were lauded as the “largest package of new sanctions” on the regime, which included targeting ships suspected of carrying banned weapons components to or from North Korea.
- US Treasury
Despite his heated rhetoric in public statements, US President Donald Trump has also teased the possibility of conducting talks with North Korea.
- Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
Source: The Associated Press
Meanwhile, the US State Department stressed that it would only entertain discussions with North Korea only if the regime commits to denuclearization.
Source: US State Department
But the State Department experienced personnel shortages for key positions. The Trump administration decided not to nominate as ambassador to South Korea Victor Cha, a leading expert on the Korean Peninsula. The position has remained unfilled for over a year.
Following his canceled nomination, Dr. Cha joined the MSNBC team as a Korean affairs analyst.
Joseph Yun, the point man on US-North Korean relations in the State Department, also resigned due to personal reasons.
- Jorge Silva/Reuters
In an interview several months later, Yun revealed that he left the State Department because he felt the department’s role was “being marginalized.”
After the Winter Olympics, South Korea sent an envoy of senior security officials to North Korea. The discussions appeared to bear fruit, as North Korea made several remarks indicating its willingness to soften its rhetoric.
South Korean officials said that North Korea expressed its “will” to denuclearize if its national security was guaranteed, and that it would halt its nuclear and missile tests during bilateral talks.
Source: NK News
The two Koreas have also made plans to re-establish a hotline, and a landmark meeting between President Moon and Kim is set to take place in April — the first meeting between leaders of the two countries in 11 years.
- Thomson Reuters
Despite the apparent progress on the Korean Peninsula, a South Korean government official said it was not possible to postpone its annual joint military drills with the US in April — an activity that frequently bristles the North.
In response to the most recent developments, Trump said that he believes North Korea is “sincere,” but noted that “they are sincere also because the sanctions.”
- Reuters/Carlos Barria
The US also upped the ante against the North on Tuesday, March 6, announcing a new set of sanctions after the State Department determined North Korea used the chemical agent VX to assassinate Kim Jong Nam — Kim Jong Un’s half-brother — in 2017.
- FUJITV/via Reuters TV
The South Korean envoy traveled to the US, where they briefed their counterparts on their discussions with North Korea.
- REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
In a groundbreaking announcement, South Korean National Security adviser Chung Eui-yong said that Kim invited Trump for a meeting and that Trump had accepted. The meeting will be held “by May,” according to Chung.
President Moon praised the outcome of the invitation and called the recent developments a “historic milestone which will contribute to achieving peace on the peninsula in the future.”
- Jeon Heon-Kyun-Pool/Getty Images
On March 22, Trump announced that national security adviser H.R. McMaster was stepping down. Trump nominated former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as his replacement.
- Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Bolton’s hawkish statements on North Korea have been viewed as troubling for many foreign policy experts.
On March 27, China announced that Kim made a trip to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The trip marked the first meeting between the two leaders, and the first time Kim met a world leader since he assumed power in 2011.
- AFP/Getty Images
CIA director Mike Pompeo was revealed to have traveled to North Korea on April 1. Pompeo is believed to have met with Kim to discuss the upcoming summit between Kim and Trump.
- Yuri Gripas/Reuters
On April 1, a 160-member art troupe from South Korea performed at Pyongyang for the first time since 2005.
Kim Jong Un and his wife also made a surprise appearance at the concert that included K-pop stars.
On April 15, South Korea unveiled promotional materials for the upcoming summits, including a website and the slogan: “Peace, a new start.”
On April 20, North Korea’s state-run news agency announced that the country would “stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.”
- KCNA/ via REUTERS
“The North will shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear test,” North Korea’s news agency announced.
On April 27, Kim and Moon met for the first time at the Panmunjom border.
- Korea Summit Press Pool/Reuters
The April 27 meeting would be the first summit between the two countries in 11 years, and as such, no expense was spared in the grand presentations that followed.
In a joint statement, Moon and Kim agreed to achieve “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and work toward ending the Korean War with a peace treaty.
On May 8, Kim made another trip to Beijing to meet with Xi.
Kim reportedly said to Xi that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was North Korea’s “constant and clear position.”
“So long as relevant parties eliminate hostile policies and security threats toward North Korea, North Korea has no need for nuclear [capacity], and denuclearization can be realized,” Kim said, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
On May 9, Pompeo made a second unannounced trip to North Korea with two reporters who were prohibited from reporting on the trip until after Trump announced it.
- North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency/Reuters
Pompeo would later fly back to the US with three Korean-Americans who were held captive in North Korea for several years. Trump personally greeted the former captives and thanked North Korea for their release.
Trump called the former detainees “incredible people” and said their release “was a very important thing to all of us.”
“This is a special night for these three, really great people,” Trump said as he shook their hand. “And congratulations on being in this country.”
“It was nice letting them go before the meeting,” Trump added. “Frankly, we didn’t think this was going to happen, and it did.”
On May 10, Trump announced on Twitter that his meeting with Kim will take place on June 12 at Singapore.
The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2018
Much to the chagrin of North Korea, national security adviser John Bolton made comments in several interviews that likened US-North Korea relations to the “Libya model.”
- REUTERS/Jason Reed
Bolton said that if the Trump administration were to make concessions, it would be “looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004” in terms of North Korea being required to surrender its nuclear weapons.
Bolton added that similar to the US’s previous stance on Libya, it would need to verify that North Korea’s denuclearization efforts were “real and not just rhetoric.”
North Korea’s propaganda outlets condemned Bolton’s remarks, which also cast uncertainty on the future of the upcoming summit between Trump and Kim.
“World knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate,” North Korea’s vice minister wrote. “It is absolutely absurd to dare compare [North Korea], a nuclear weapon state, to Libya which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.”
Trump walked back Bolton’s comments after North Korea threatened to scuttle their landmark meeting with him.
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Trump addressed Bolton’s comments and North Korea’s abrupt shift, saying that “the Libya model isn’t the model that we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea,” and that Kim would still be “running his country.”
Trump’s definition of a “Libya model” appears to have differed from Bolton’s. The national security adviser advocated for verification of North Korea’s denuclearization efforts, but he did not seem to imply that the US would try to remove the North Korean leadership.
On May 22, Trump and Moon met in Washington D.C. to discuss preparations ahead of the US-North Korea summit, despite North Korea’s hints of withdrawing.
“There’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out,” Trump said, referring to his scheduled meeting with Kim. “That doesn’t mean that it won’t work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12.”