The North Korea issue is a complicated one.
Somehow, President Trump became the first sitting president to sit down with a North Korean leader in 2018. It’s surprising for a multitude of reasons, but mainly because they were making threats to each other over Twitter months before.
After North Korea performed a set of nuclear tests, Trump called Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” and told him that the US would “destroy North Korea”. Post-meetup, however, Trump called him “honorable” and predicted a “terrific relationship” between himself and the Korean dictator.
If this gives you a headache, we’re here to help. Here is your definitive timeline of the North Korea conflict.
The North Korea Conflict As It Happened
If you didn’t know, this issue between the US and North Korea has been going on for a long time. Since the Korean War in the 1950s, the North Koreans have been attempting to get their hands on nuclear weapons.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, North Korea joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and made a joint agreement with South Korea to stop producing weapons. This didn’t last long.
1994: President Clinton’s Negotiations
In early ’94, the frustrated North Koreans were ready to repurpose fuel rods from a nuclear reactor to produce up to 6 nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration considered several options and decided to attempt to negotiate with the North Koreans.
This resulted in Madeleine Albright coming to an agreement with Kim Jong II for North Korea to dismantle their active nuclear facilities. They also ceased production at two other facilities and stopped testing long and medium-range missiles.
This was all done with the intention of normalizing relations with the US after they had lost the Soviets as an ally.
2001-2003: Bush Takes Aggressive Approach
Things broke down after George W. Bush took office. His hardline approach and skepticism about the North Koreans’ adherence to their agreement culminated with the President naming North Korea in his “Axis of Evil”.
The US suspected North Korea of enriching uranium and ceased oil shipments that were agreed upon under the Clinton administration. This is where the framework for the previous agreement broke down.
2003-2006: Six-Party Talks
The six-party talks involved South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, the US, and North Korea. They agreed to once again cease their nuclear program in exchange for assistance with creating light-water reactors.
Of course, this all broke down again when the North Koreans became agitated with the slow pace of the light-water projects. North Korea began testing missiles once again.
2006-2016: Nuclear Testing
Nuclear testing would begin in 2006 and last through the Obama administration. Despite Obama’s best efforts, underground missile testing continued until Kim Jong II died in 2012. But, that wouldn’t be the end.
In 2012, Kim Jong II’s youngest son, Kim Jong Un took over power in North Korea and escalated the nuclear program. Ballistic missile tests were carried out at a rapid pace and more powerful each time. This all culminated with the North Korean leader’s claim that they had tested a hydrogen bomb in September of 2016.
2017- 2018: A War of Words
North Korea’s missile testing continued into the Trump administration. This time with an intercontinental missile that was capable of reaching Alaska. They also claimed to have tested another atomic bomb.
Again, it’s impossible to know the truth, but the test records show that the nuclear test was at an estimated 250 kilotons. This is where Trump’s twitter battle with Kim Jong Un begins.
Whether or not the North Korean leader was serious about his counter threats, we’ve seen some progress as recently as 2018, when Kim Jong Un accepted an invitation to the opening ceremony of the Olympics in South Korea. He sent his sister.
2018-Now: Trump and Kim Jong Un Meet
In early March 2018, Kim Jong Un invited Trump to meet for negotiations regarding the nuclear program. Trump followed the visit by tweeting that they even discussed complete denuclearization.
Following this trip, in April, CIA director Mike Pompeo made a secret visit to North Korea to discuss this. Following this, North Korea announced that it would cease operations at its nuclear test site.
After some regrettable comments made by US officials to put pressure on North Korea, leading to hostile talks, the meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un was eventually back on for June of 2018.
It was reported afterward that, in exchange for security guarantees, North Korea would work towards complete denuclearization. The two parties met again in early 2019 to further discuss this deal, but they walked away without an agreement.
Though it would seem like progress has been made by the Trump administration, we’re not going to hold our breath for denuclearization just yet. We’ll see if they’re able to meet again to complete the agreement, but for now, the North Korea conflict remains alive and well.