Ten historic moments in U.S.-North Korean relations



SINGAPORE – U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are in Singapore for a summit Tuesday morning that will be the first of its kind between leaders of the rival nations. Ten other historic moments in relations between the United States and North Korea:

Korean war

The two countries fought on opposite sides of a three-year war in the early 1950s that killed millions of people, including 36,000 American soldiers. The war began in June 1950 when North Korean troops poured across the border at the 38th parallel and launched a surprise assault. A weak South Korean military was initially almost driven off the peninsula before the American-led U.N. forces pushed the invaders deep into North Korea. The Chinese military later intervened, pushing the U.N. forces back. The fighting ended with an armistice in July 1953. That armistice has yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war. The United States still stations about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea.

Spy ship captured

In January 1968, North Korean navy boats attacked and captured the USS Pueblo off the North’s east coast. One U.S. sailor was killed and 82 others were captured. They were held in North Korea for 11 months, beaten and interrogated before being released after the chief U.S. negotiator signed a statement acknowledging the ship illegally entered the North’s territorial waters. North Korea puts the Pueblo on display in Pyongyang, making it the only U.S. Navy ship held captive by a foreign country.

Ax murder

In the summer of 1976, two American soldiers were hacked to death by ax-wielding North Korean soldiers during a fight over U.S. efforts to trim a poplar tree at Demilitarized Zone that bisects the Koreas. An enraged U.S. responded by flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ to intimidate North Korea. Rising animosities eased after then-North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of Kim Jong Un, expressed regret over the killing. It remains the most notorious bloodshed at the DMZ, which is strewn with mines and barbed-wire fences.

Carter visits North

In June 1994, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea via the DMZ and had two rounds of lengthy talks with Kim Il Sung in an effort to resolve an early round of nuclear confrontation. After returning to the South, Cater conveyed Kim Il Sung’s offer for an inter-Korean summit and South Korean President Kim Young-sam accepted. What could have been the Koreas’ first summit fizzed, however, after Kim Il Sung died of a heart attack in July 1994. His son Kim Jong Il inherited power, and he held the Koreas’ first summit in 2000 with then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

Agreed framework

In October 1994, the United States signed a landmark nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea, ending months of war fears triggered by the North’s threat to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and convert its stockpile of nuclear fuel into bombs. Under the pact called the “Agreed Framework,” the North froze its atomic activities and agreed to eventually dismantle its nuclear facilities in exchange for the construction of two light-water nuclear reactors for electricity generation and supply of oil. The deal collapsed in 2002, when U.S. officials accused North Korea of covertly running a nuclear program using enriched uranium.

Vice marshal visits U.S.

In October 2000, Kim Jong Il’s right-hand man and vice marshal, Jo Myong Rok, flew to the United States, becoming the most senior North Korean official to visit its wartime foe since the end of the Korean War. Jo met then-President Bill Clinton and delivered Kim’s personal letter. His trip came as the two countries were seeking to improve ties after a detente was fostered following the first-ever inter-Korean summit earlier that year.

Albright to North

A few weeks after Jo’s trip, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a reciprocal visit to Pyongyang to try to arrange a North Korea visit by Clinton. She met Kim Jong Il and they together watched the “Arirang” mass game spectacle that included a giant mosaic displaying a rocket flying into the sky. The reconciliatory mood between the two countries shifted dramatically after President George W. Bush took office in January 2001 with a tough policy on the North. Clinton eventually went to North Korea as a former president in 2009 to secure the freedom of two detained American journalists held there.

Six-nation talks

The U.S. was brought back to the negotiating table with North Korea in 2003, this time under the framework of six-party talks that also involved South Korea, China, Russia and Japan. During the on-and-off talks that continued until 2008, North Korea halted nuclear activities again and disabled some key elements at its main nuclear complex in return for security, economic and energy benefits. But the talks broke down amid wrangling over how to verify its disarmament steps. North Korea officially pulled out the talks in 2009 to protest international condemnation over a prohibited long-range rocket launch.

Escalating tests

After taking power after his father Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011, Kim Jong Un started carrying out an unusually large number of weapons tests as part of his stated objective of building nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. In 2017, especially, the world saw fears of war on the Korean Peninsula escalating dramatically after North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and three intercontinental ballistic missile test-launches. Kim and Trump traded crude personal insults and warlike threats to attack one another.

New detente

Kim changed tactics in 2018, sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in the South and holding a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Kim has offered to negotiate away his nuclear program if he’s provided with a reliable security guarantee from the United States. There is deep skepticism about whether Kim would fully give up his nukes, but Trump eventually agreed to meet him for a summit. Kim’s top lieutenant and former intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol traveled to the U.S. and with a personal letter to Trump, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to Pyongyang and met the North Korean leader twice.



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