Kim Jong-un and other top North Korean officials accompany the coffin of Kim Jong-il during the late leader’s funeral procession.
Timeline

North Korean Nuclear Negotiations

1985 – 2018

Nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea have proceeded in fits and starts across three decades and have failed to halt the advance of the North’s atomic weapons program.

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Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il oversee the construction of a dam.
Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il oversee the construction of a dam. KCNA via AP Photo
North Korea Joins Nonproliferation Regime

North Korea ratifies the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a multilateral agreement whose dozens of signatories have committed to halting the spread of nuclear weapons and technology and promoting peaceful cooperation on nuclear energy. North Korea built its first nuclear facilities in the early 1980s.

U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the signing of the START agreement.
U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the signing of the START agreement. Sputnik via AP Photo
United States Removes Nukes From South Korea

The United States announces it will withdraw roughly one hundred nuclear weapons from South Korea as part of the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The agreement between President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, known as the START treaty, limits the deployment of offensive nuclear weapons abroad.

North Koreans in traditional dress perform for President Kim Il-sung.
North Koreans in traditional dress perform for President Kim Il-sung. Pierre Bessard/AFP via Getty Images
Koreas Agree to Denuclearize Peninsula

The governments of North and South Korea agree [PDF] to “not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons,” as well as ban nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities. The treaty also commits the two Koreas to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju announces his country’s withdrawal from the NPT.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju announces his country’s withdrawal from the NPT. Jim Cooper/AP Photo
North Korea Threatens NPT Withdrawal

Pyongyang rejects inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and announces its intent to leave the NPT. However, the country suspends its withdrawal following talks with U.S. diplomats in New York. Pyongyang agrees to comply with IAEA safeguards, including inspections at seven declared nuclear sites. The first inspections take place in March 1994.

North Korean leader Kim Il-sung meets with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter weeks before Kim’s death.
North Korean leader Kim Il-sung meets with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter weeks before Kim’s death. KCNA via AP Photo
Carter Visits North Korea

Amid escalating tensions on the peninsula, Jimmy Carter becomes the first former U.S. president to visit North Korea, where he meets with Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder. Carter’s trip paves the way for a bilateral deal between the United States and North Korea. Kim dies weeks later and is succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il.

The first page of the Agreed Framework.
The first page of the Agreed Framework.
Deal Freezes Pyongyang’s Nuclear Program

The United States and North Korea sign the Agreed Framework [PDF], in which North Korea commits to freezing its illicit plutonium weapons program and halting construction on nuclear reactors, in Geneva. In exchange, the United States pledges to provide sanctions relief, aid, oil, and two light-water reactors for civilian use. Earlier in the year, the CIA assessed that North Korea had produced one or two nuclear weapons.

Representatives of Japan, South Korea, and the United States sign the KEDO treaty.
Representatives of Japan, South Korea, and the United States sign the KEDO treaty. Jon Levy/AFP via Getty Images
Allies Found KEDO

The United States, Japan, and South Korea establish the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to implement the 1994 Agreed Framework and oversee the financing and construction of the two light-water reactors. KEDO breaks ground in August 1997.

North Korean television broadcasts an image of a ballistic missile.
North Korean television broadcasts an image of a ballistic missile. Reuters
North Korea Imposes Missile Moratorium

North Korea agrees to suspend testing of long-range missiles following talks with the United States; in exchange, the United States eases economic sanctions for the first time since the beginning of the Korean War in 1950.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-il poses with the South’s Kim Dae-jung upon his arrival in Pyongyang.
North Korea’s Kim Jong-il poses with the South’s Kim Dae-jung upon his arrival in Pyongyang. S009/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
First Inter-Korean Summit

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung meets with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang for the first summit between Korean leaders since the peninsula’s division five decades prior. The rapprochement results in a number of joint commercial and cultural projects, including construction of an industrial complex and the reunification of families separated during the war. Following the summit, the United States eases sanctions further, allowing some trade and investment.

Kim Jong-il toasts U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in North Korea.
Kim Jong-il toasts U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in North Korea. Chien-Min Chung/AFP via Getty Images
Washington and Pyongyang Host Goodwill Trips

North Korean General Jo Myong-rok meets with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington, making Jo the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the United States. A few weeks later, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright travels to North Korea to discuss the country’s ballistic missile program and missile technology exports. The diplomatic overtures lead to missile talks in November, but Clinton’s presidency ends without making additional nuclear or missile deals.

Satellite imagery from February 2002 depicts North Korea’s nuclear facilities.
Satellite imagery from February 2002 depicts North Korea’s nuclear facilities. U.S. International Security Research Institute via Getty Images
Bush Challenges North’s Commitment to Deal

President George W. Bush takes office in 2001 and pursues a harder line toward Pyongyang, characterizing North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, as part of an “axis of evil” and imposing new sanctions. In April 2002, Bush states in a memorandum that the United States will not certify North Korea’s compliance with the 1994 Agreed Framework, due to a rocket test and missile-related transfers to Iran.

Thousands rally in Pyongyang after North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT.
Thousands rally in Pyongyang after North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT. Gong Yidong/Xinhua via AP Photo
Pyongyang Exits the NPT

Pyongyang admits to running a secret uranium-enrichment program to power nuclear weapons, a violation of the Agreed Framework, the NPT, and agreements between North and South Korea. By December, the country says it will reactivate its nuclear plant in Yongbyon. The following month, North Korea withdraws from the NPT after disrupting IAEA monitoring equipment and expelling inspectors.

Heads of the delegations to the Six Party Talks meet.
Heads of the delegations to the Six Party Talks meet. Ng Han Guan/Reuters
Six Party Talks Open

Amid an increasingly tense climate, South and North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States launch a diplomatic initiative known as the Six Party Talks. There are no breakthroughs during the first round of talks, in Beijing, where North Korea denies having a uranium-enrichment program.

A commuters pass by a Banco Delta Asia bank branch in Macau.
Commuters pass by a Banco Delta Asia bank branch in Macau. Tim Johnson/MCT/ via Getty Images
U.S. Freezes North Korean Funds

The U.S. Treasury Department designates the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia a primary money laundering concern and freezes $25 million North Korea holds there. These funds will prove to be a sticking point in negotiations between the United States and North Korea.

Negotiators in Beijing shake hands after the fourth round of the Six Party Talks.
Negotiators in Beijing shake hands after the fourth round of the Six Party Talks. Guang Niu/Getty Images
Disarmament Principles Emerge From Talks

Despite stalemates at previous rounds of the Six Party Talks, its members agree to a joint declaration in which North Korea commits to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and to implement IAEA safeguards and the terms of the NPT. As part of the agreement, the United States asserts that it has no intention of attacking North Korea.

South Korean television broadcasts North Korea’s first nuclear test.
South Korean television broadcasts North Korea’s first nuclear test. Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images
North Korea Shocks With First Nuclear Test

North Korea carries out an underground nuclear test with an explosion yield estimated around one to two kilotons. In July, North Korea tested seven short-, medium-, and long-range ballistic missiles. These tests prompt the UN Security Council to issue unanimous condemnations and trade sanctions.

A ship destined for North Korea is loaded with oil in South Korea.
A ship destined for North Korea is loaded with oil in South Korea. Chung Sun-jun/Getty Images
Six Party Members Agree to Action Plan

North Korea commits to halting operations at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities in exchange for fifty thousand tons of oil. The deal is part of an action plan agreed to by the Six Party members to implement the September 2005 statement.

U.S. President George W. Bush gives a statement on North Korea in June 2008.
U.S. President George W. Bush gives a statement on North Korea in June 2008. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Nuclear Diplomacy Inches Forward

After the United States releases the $25 million in frozen North Korean funds in June, the Six Party Talks resume. Its participants issue a joint statement outlining the North’s commitment to declare all of its nuclear programs, disable its facilities, and stop the export of nuclear material and technology. In exchange, the North is to receive nine hundred thousand tons of oil and the United States pledges to remove the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Lee Myung-bak takes his inaugural oath before the South Korean parliament.
Lee Myung-bak takes his inaugural oath before the South Korean parliament. Lee Jae-won/Reuters
South Korea’s New Leader Takes Harder Line

Lee Myung-bak is elected president of South Korea. As the leader of a conservative government, Lee shifts from his predecessors’ push for reconciliation to exert more pressure on North Korea to denuclearize. He takes office a few months after the second inter-Korean summit, held between the North’s Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

A cooling tower at a North Korean plutonium-producing reactor is demolished.
A cooling tower at a North Korean plutonium-producing reactor is demolished. Kyodo via Reuters
North Korea Declares Nuclear Sites

Pyongyang declares its fifteen nuclear sites to Beijing, the chair of the Six Party Talks, stating that it had thirty kilograms of plutonium and used two kilograms in its 2006 nuclear test. In turn, Bush rescinds some restrictions on trade with North Korea, announces plans to take the country off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and waives some sanctions. In October, the U.S. State Department announces a preliminary agreement with North Korea on verifications. However, by December, discussions break down because of disagreements on verification procedures.

A U.S. delegation arrives in Pyongyang in December 2009.
A U.S. delegation arrives in Pyongyang in December 2009. KCNA via Reuters
Obama Attempts Diplomatic Restart

President Barack Obama takes office signaling a willingness to revive the Six Party Talks, but these efforts are initially rebuffed by North Korea, which launches a rocket believed to be a modified version of its long-range ballistic missile. It also ejects international monitors from its nuclear facilities in April and the following month tests a second nuclear device, which carries a yield of two to eight kilotons. In December, Obama administration officials hold their first bilateral meetings with their North Korean counterparts.

Smoke rises from Yeonpyeong after North Korean artillery hit the South Korean island.
Smoke rises from Yeonpyeong after North Korean artillery hit the South Korean island. Getty Images
North Korea Reveals Uranium Plant

Pyongyang reveals its new centrifuge for uranium enrichment [PDF], which was built secretively and swiftly, as well as a light-water reactor under construction, suggesting that despite sanctions, the regime is committed to advancing its weapons program. The news comes amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula after forty-six South Koreans were killed when a patrol ship, the Cheonan, was torpedoed and then sank in March. The South blames North Korea for the attack and cuts economic ties. The North denies its involvement and later fires artillery at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.

Kim Jong-un and other top North Korean officials accompany the coffin of Kim Jong-il during the late leader’s funeral procession.
Kim Jong-un and other top North Korean officials accompany the coffin of Kim Jong-il during the late leader’s funeral procession. KCNA via Reuters
North Korea Heralds New Leader

Kim Jong-il dies after seventeen years in power and is succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un. The not-yet-thirty-year-old Kim is relatively unknown, and foreign observers anticipate a political struggle until he begins to assert power.

North Korean leaders attend a parade honoring the seventieth birthday of the recently deceased Kim Jong-il.
North Korean leaders attend a parade honoring the seventieth birthday of the recently deceased Kim Jong-il. David Guttenfelder/AP Photo
Nuclear Operations Briefly Suspended

Following a meeting between the United States and North Korea in Beijing, North Korea commits to suspend its uranium enrichment operations in Yongbyon, invite IAEA monitors, and carry out a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear testing. In exchange, the United States is to provide tons of food aid. The deal falls apart after North Korea launches a rocket and displays road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles at a military parade.

Kim Jong-un inspects the tip of a rocket warhead.
Kim Jong-un inspects the tip of a rocket warhead. KCNA via Reuters
North’s Nuclear Program Advances Despite Isolation

Diplomacy stalls for several years as the Obama administration opts for “strategic patience,” in which the United States and its partners ratchet up sanctions in hopes that the regime will return to the negotiating table. Meanwhile, North Korea carries out nuclear tests in February 2013 and again in January and September 2016. Its ballistic missile capabilities improve, with more tests of short-, medium-, and long-range missiles carried out under Kim Jong-un than under his father and grandfather combined.

President Trump tweets a reaction to provocations from North Korea’s Kim.
President Trump tweets a reaction to provocations from North Korea’s Kim. Twitter
President Trump Ratchets up Rhetoric

President Donald J. Trump is inaugurated in January 2017 and shifts course in U.S. policy toward North Korea. In September, Pyongyang conducts its sixth nuclear test, which it claims is a hydrogen bomb and raises international alarm due to the yield of its explosion. Trump redesignates North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism in November. U.S.-North Korean relations during Trump’s first year are volatile as Pyongyang boasts it can reach U.S. soil with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles and the Trump administration threatens a military strike.

The planned meeting of Kim and Trump, later slated for June 12 in Singapore, would be the first between a sitting U.S president and North Korean leader.
The planned meeting of Kim and Trump, later slated for June 12 in Singapore, would be the first between a sitting U.S president and North Korean leader. KCNA and Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Trump Agrees to First U.S.-North Korea Summit

South Korea’s national security advisor announces in Washington that Trump has accepted an invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang by May. The news comes on the heels of diplomatic overtures between the North and South spurred by the Winter Olympic Games, hosted by South Korea in Pyeongchang.

Kim and Moon meet in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
Kim and Moon meet in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. Reuters
Kim Makes Historic Visit South

Kim becomes the first North Korean leader to cross the border south for a summit with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in at the truce village of Panmunjom. The summit marks the first meeting between the heads of the Koreas in eleven years. The two pledge to convert the armistice that ended the hostilities of the Korean War into a formal peace treaty. They also confirmed the shared goal of achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

Trump’s letter to Kim canceling their meeting.
Trump’s letter to Kim canceling their meeting. The White House
Trump Calls Off Singapore Summit

The U.S. president pulls out of the meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, citing “anger and hostility” in North Korea’s latest statements. Threats out of Pyongyang had raised doubts about whether the summit would go forward. Still, North Korea had taken some action in recent weeks to demonstrate good faith by releasing three U.S. prisoners and demolishing the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, where foreign journalists were invited to witness the event.

Kim and Trump shake hands after their summit.
Kim and Trump shake hands after their summit. Susan Walsh/Pool/Reuters
Kim, Trump Pledge New Era of Relations

In an about-face, Kim and Trump hold a historic meeting in Singapore, where they signal a desire to change the U.S.-North Korea relationship. The two leaders sign a joint statement pledging to pursue lasting peace and complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, although the declaration provides few details. They also commit to recovering the remains of U.S. soldiers who fought in the Korean War. Separately, Trump says he would suspend U.S.-South Korea military exercises and Kim agrees to destroy a missile-engine test site.

Timeline
North Korean Nuclear Negotiations