Updated February 27, 2019
North Korea has worked on its nuclear weapons program for decades, seeking to develop a capability that would deter an attack by the United States. With the help of the Soviet Union, North Korea began work on a nuclear program, insisting it was for peaceful purposes. In 1985, North Korea joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In 1991, South and North Korea signed an agreement committing both countries to refrain from producing or using nuclear weapons.
North Korea’s tone changed soon after. In 1993, they threatened to quit the NPT after International Atomic Energy Agency officials accused the North of violating the Treaty and demanded access to nuclear waste storage site for inspectors. Then-U.S. President Bill Clinton decided to enter into negotiations with the North, resulting in the 1994 Agreed Framework under which North Korea agreed to freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear facilities in exchange for normalization of relations with the U.S. among other incentives.
In 2002, the Agreed Framework collapsed with the U.S. accusing North Korea of secretly enriching uranium and halting fuel oil shipments to the North agreed to under the Framework. North Korea formally withdrew from the NPT in 2003. Attempts to re-engage the North on their nuclear program through the Six-Party Talks — a forum that included China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. — cycled through moderate successes and complete breakdowns. With this cycle as the backdrop, North Korea began testing long-range ballistic missiles and conducting nuclear tests. In response, the United Nations imposed numerous economic and commercial sanctions.
Fast forward to 2017: North Korea ramped up its missile testing, conducting successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, and completed its sixth nuclear test. U.S. President Donald Trump responded to these provocations with inflammatory tweets, increased military pressure, and threats of “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
The two leaders volleyed threats back and forth until the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea ushered in a period of diplomacy and optimism. South Korean President Moon Jae-in invited North Korea to participate with the South in the opening ceremony, an offer North Korean leader Kim Jong-un accepted. By the closing ceremony, North Korea had signalled its willingness to meet with the U.S.
On June 12, 2018, Trump met with Kim Jong-un in Singapore — the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. The joint declaration issued at the meeting’s conclusion committed both countries to work toward peace in Northeast Asia, including the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The next day, Trump declared “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” He later claimed, “We will immediately begin total denuclearization of North Korea.” While continued engagement between the two countries is a positive sign, the nuclear threat from North Korea is far from eliminated and a large gap still exists over what denuclearization actually means.
Negotiating the peaceful resolution of the Korean peninsula crisis is not something that happens overnight. Diplomacy is difficult and takes time. Both North Korea and the United States, along with its allies, must continue engagement, working to make real progress and advocate for real steps toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Only a sustained diplomatic process can reduce the risks of catastrophic and potentially nuclear military confrontation.
It is essential for the U.S. and North Korea to keep moving forward and refrain from returning to the nuclear saber-rattling, escalatory rhetoric and threats of military action that defined relations just last year. And it is essential for us to make sure they do.
Days Since The Singapore Summit: 260
What’s happened since the Singapore Summit:
June 18: U.S. and South Korea announce suspension of August Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military exercise.
June 21: Commercial satellite imagery suggests improvements to North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.
June 29: A report shows U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites.
July 6: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Pyongyang, North Korea for talks. Pompeo states he is “seeking to fill in some details on these commitments and continue the momentum toward implementation of what the two leaders promised each other and the world.”
The two countries establish working groups to tackle details, including verification efforts for denuclearization, according to the U.S. State Department.
July 7: After talks, North Korea calls talks “deeply regrettable,” citing U.S. “demand for denuclearization.” Pompeo says talks were “productive.”
July 12: The U.S. asks the UN Security Council to order a halt to all deliveries of refined oil products to North Korea, citing NK violations.
Trump tweets out a July 6 letter from Kim claiming progress is being made. The letter says nothing about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
July 22: The U.S. and North Korea agree to restart field operations to search for the missing remains of thousands of Americans. U.S. officials say the North pledged to return 55 sets of remains on July 27.
July 23: CNN reports, citing an unnamed official, North Korea wants the United States to agree to a legally-binding peace treaty that would ensure the survival of Kim Jong-un’s regime before denuclearization talks can proceed further.
July 25: In a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the North Koreans understand the U.S. definition of denuclearization and sanctions will continue to be enforced until “denuclearization as we have defined it is complete.”
July 27: A U.S. Air Force plane carrying the remains of American soldiers who fought in the Korean War arrives at Osan Air Force Base in South Korea.
July 30: The Washington Post reports that U.S. intelligence agencies have evidence that North Korea continues to build new ICBMs.
August 3: A UN Security Council-commissioned report is released saying that North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and is trying to sell weapons abroad.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo states in an interview with Channel NewsAsia that North Korea will decide the timeline for its denuclearization.
August 4: Ri Yong-ho, North Korea’s foreign minister, says at a regional security forum in Singapore that the U.S. is not taking actions reciprocal to those taken by North Korea in its move toward denuclearization.
August 7: National security advisor John Bolton states in an interview on Fox News that North Korea has not taken any steps to denuclearize.
August 13: North and South Korea release a joint statement saying the two countries plan to hold a summit meeting.
August 15: South Korean President Moon Jae-in proposes a plan for broader economic cooperation with North Korea.
August 20: Korean families separated during the Korean War are allowed to meet at a resort in southeast North Korea.
President Trump says in an interview with Reuters that he would most likely meet with Kim Jong-un again.
The IAEA releases a report saying that North Korea has not curtailed its nuclear program.
August 21: The U.S. releases new sanctions targeting Russian companies doing business with North Korea.
The South Korean Minister of Defence announces that North and South Korea have agreed to shut down some guard posts between the two countries.
August 22: South Korea announces that it is moving ahead with plans to open a diplomatic liaison office in the North.
August 24: President Trump cancels Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to North Korea, citing lack of progress toward denuclearization.
South Korea releases customs data showing it sent nearly US$1 million of sanctioned materials to North Korea over the previous two months.
August 28: Secretary of Defense James Mattis announces that the U.S. has no plans to suspend any more joint military drills with South Korea.
August 29: President Trump tweets accusations that China is undermining U.S. negotiations with North Korea.
August 30: The U.S.-led U.N. command denies an application for a rail project linking North and South Korea.
The U.S. State Department announces that it is extending a ban on U.S. citizens travelling to North Korea for another year.
September 6: The U.S. Department of Justice accuses North Korea of conducting a years-long hacking campaign against American companies and international financial institutions.
September 7: U.S. and North Korean generals meet to discuss the possibility of recovering more remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War.
September 9: North Korea holds its annual military parade, but does not include its ICBMs.
September 19: Kim Jong-un tells Moon Jae-in that he will commit to dismantling nuclear fuel production facilities.
September 24: CIA Director Gina Haspel expresses skepticism that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons.
September 29: Ri Yong-ho, North Korea’s Foreign Minister, says in a speech at the U.N. general assembly that there was no way North Korea would denuclearize without trust-building concessions from the U.S.
October 4: The U.S. imposes sanctions on a Turkish company and individuals for doing business with North Korea.
October 10: President Trump states that the South Korean government wouldn’t lift an embargo on the North without U.S. approval.
November 2: North Korea threatens to resume its nuclear program unless the U.S. grants it relief from sanctions.
November 5: The U.S. and South Korea resume joint military drills.
November 7: the U.S. State Department announces that a meeting with North Korea has been cancelled.
November 12: The Center for Strategic and International Studies releases a report indicating that North Korea is moving forward with its ballistic missile program.
November 16: North Korea announces that it has tested a new tactical weapon.
November 20: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says in a press conference that North Korea’s denuclearization should not lag behind the development of stronger North-South relations.
North Korea blows up the first of ten DMZ guard posts, per an agreement with the South.
November 24: the U.N. Security Council grants an exemption to North Korea sanctions for an exploratory study on a rail link between the two countries.
November 27: North Korean Ambassador to the U.N. Kim Song sends letters to the members of the U.N. Security Council accusing the U.S. of stoking confrontation by calling for a meeting on human rights in North Korea.
December 4: National security advisor John Bolton says that North Korea’s failure to fulfill its commitments requires another summit meeting.
December 7: North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho says in a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that North Korea was committed to ending its nuclear weapons program.
December 10: The U.S. imposes new sanctions on three North Korean officials, citing human rights abuses and the death of Otto Warmbier.
December 16: North Korea releases a statement saying new U.S. sanctions could permanently foreclose the possibility of denuclearization.
December 20: North Korea’s Korean Central News Statement releases a statement saying that the North would not give up its nuclear weapons unless the U.S. removed the nuclear threat.
December 24: A Washington, D.C. federal judge orders North Korea to pay over $500 million to the parents of Otto Warmbier.
December 26: North and South Korea hold a ground-breaking ceremony for a rail link between the two countries.
December 31: Kim Jong-un sends a letter to Moon Jae-in stating that the North Korean leader would like to visit South Korea.
January 1, 2019: During his annual New Year’s speech, Kim Jong-un states that he is ready to meet with President Trump again.
January 4: An editorial in the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun warns the U.S. to stop meddling in the North Korea-South Korea relationship.
January 17: The U.S. Missile Defense Review identifies North Korea as an “extraordinary threat.”
January 21: The Center for Strategic and International Studies releases a report identifying an undeclared missile site.
February 12: General Robert Abrams, Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, says that there has been “little to no verifiable change” in North Korean military capabilities.
February 24: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo states that North Korea remains a threat to the United States, contradicting statements by President Trump.
February 26: The Trump-Kim summit meeting begins in Hanoi.
February 28: The Trump-Kim summit ends early without a deal.
In June 2017, the Nuclear Crisis Group recommended key steps to lower the risk of nuclear use and resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. You can read those recommendations here.