A new era of diplomatic relations with North Korea is on the horizon — here’s what’s happened so far

President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands during a meeting at South Korea’s presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, November 7, 2017.

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President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands during a meeting at South Korea’s presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, November 7, 2017.
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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.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Seoul, South Korea, February 10, 2018.
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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.

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Kim Yo Jong attends the Switzerland vs Korea hockey match during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Kwandong Hockey Centre, Gangneung, South Korea, February 10, 2018
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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.

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Kim Yong Chol, right, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, watches the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, February 25, 2018.
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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.

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US Treasury images appear to show a ship-to-ship transfer with North Korea.
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US Treasury

Source: Reuters


Despite his heated rhetoric in public statements, US President Donald Trump has also teased the possibility of conducting talks with North Korea.

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President Donald Trump meets with lawmakers in Washington D.C., February 28, 2018.
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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.

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Victor Cha, the former director for Asian affairs for the National Security Council.
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MIT Center for International Studies/YouTube

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.

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US special representative for North Korea policy Joseph Yun arrives at a meeting with the media in Bangkok, Thailand, December 15, 2017.
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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.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Chung Eui-yong, who leads the special delegation of South Korea’s President, in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 6, 2018.
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KCNA

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.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greets a member of the special delegation of South Korea’s President at a dinner in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 6, 2018.
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KCNA

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.

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South Korean soldiers stand guard at the truce village of Panmunjom.
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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.”

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President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.
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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.

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A still image from camera footage shows Kim Jong Nam talking to airport staff, after being accosted by a woman at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia on February 13, 2017.
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FUJITV/via Reuters TV

Source: Reuters


The South Korean envoy traveled to the US, where they briefed their counterparts on their discussions with North Korea.

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White House chief of staff John Kelly, left, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster during a panel discussing UN reform before the 72nd UN General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 18, 2017.
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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.

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South Korean National Security adviser Chung Eui-yong gives a press briefing at the White House lawn.
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CNN

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.”

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in waves the national flag during a march to commemorate the 99th Independence Movement Day ceremony at Seodaemun Prison History Hall on March 1, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea.
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Jeon Heon-Kyun-Pool/Getty Images

Source: Twitter


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.

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Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, March 29, 2014.
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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.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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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.

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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.”

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South Korea Inter-Korean Summit Preparatory Committee

On April 20, North Korea’s state-run news agency announced that the country would “stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Mu Islet, located in the southernmost part of the waters off the southwest front, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 5, 2017.
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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.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their meeting at the Peace House at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018.
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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.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with China’s President Xi Jinping, in Dalian, China in this undated photo released on May 9, 2018 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.
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KCNA/Reuters

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.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 9, 2018.
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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.

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Buddha Toothe Relic Temple in Singapore.
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r.nagy/Shutterstock


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.”

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John Bolton in Hilton Head, South Carolina January 13, 2012.
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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.

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President Donald Trump speaks at a meeting on infrastructure at Trump Tower, August 15, 2017 in New York City.
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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.”