U.S.-North Korea: 70 years of high tension

Agence France-Presse

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U.S.-North Korea: 70 years of high tension


(UPDATED) Here is a recap of the decades of tensions between the two countries

SEOUL, South Korea (UPDATED) – With US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un poised to meet Tuesday, June 12, here is a recap of the decades of tensions between their countries:

Divided Korean peninsula

The Soviet Union declares war on Japan, Korea’s colonial power, in the closing days of World War II and Washington and Moscow agree to divide the peninsula into two zones of occupation along the 38th parallel.

Two rival states emerge in 1948, the Soviet-backed regime of Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang, and a Seoul government under US protection, an uneasy co-habitation that erupts into war when the North invades the South.

It advances to the brink of victory, only to be driven back to the edge of defeat by a US-led coalition, prompting China to intervene on a huge scale.

The wo sides fight to a bloody and muddy standstill that lasts until 1953, when an armistice – not a fully-fledged peace treaty – is signed, setting up the Demilitarized Zone that splits the peninsula to this day.

Lashing out

With the Cold War in full bloom, North Korea scores a coup when its military captures an American spy ship in 1968.

The regime claims the USS Pueblo had violated territorial waters – which Washington denies – and holds the 83-strong crew for 11 months.

The ship is never returned and remains on display in Pyongyang.

Two US officers trying to prune a tree in the DMZ are killed by Northern troops in the 1976 ‘Axe Murder Incident’, prompting a monumental show of force by Washington, which deploys jet fighters and aircraft carriers in the operation to cut down the offending poplar.


After the collapse of the Soviet Union and with North Korea’s economy under intense pressure – resulting in a devastating famine – attitudes to the outside world begin to soften.

Former US president Jimmy Carter makes an unprecedented visit in June 1994 and later that year, Pyongyang and Washington sign an agreement in which North Korea commits to dismantle its military nuclear program in exchange for civilian reactors.

Reaching up

The detente is short-lived and in 1998 Pyongyang launches its first multi-stage rocket in what it says is an attempt to put a satellite into orbit.

However, a year later leader Kim Jong-Il declares a moratorium on missile launches and Washington eases sanctions.

In October 2000, US secretary of state Madeleine Albright meets Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang.

‘Axis of Evil’

Relations sour again under US president George W. Bush, who lumps North Korea together with Iran and Iraq in the “axis of evil” in 2002.

Washington accuses Pyongyang of conducting a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of earlier agreements, and is proved right in 2006 when the North conducts its first nuclear test.

Testing times

Three years later the North walks out of the Six-Party Talks, a Chinese-chaired process that includes the US, and detonates its second nuclear blast.

Weapons testing accelerates after Kim Jong-Il dies in 2011 and his son Kim Jong-Un inherits power.

In 2017 the North carries out its 6th and by far its largest nuclear explosion, with a yield estimated at up to 250 kilotons, and launches missiles that bring the entire US mainland within range.

The young leader declares his weapons program complete.

Trump vs Kim

North Korea’s testing frenzy coincides with Donald Trump’s first year in the White House.

Throughout 2017, Trump and Kim threaten each other with war – Trump promises “fire and fury” – and both men launch increasingly extravagant verbal attacks.

Trump derides Kim as “little Rocket Man,” while Kim returns the favor – and coins one of diplomacy’s more memorable insults – by calling the septuagenarian a “mentally deranged US dotard”.

Towards the Singapore summit

When 2018 dawns it brings a rapid change in mood, with North Korea sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in seizes the opportunity and works to get Pyongyang and Washington talking again.

In March, Trump abruptly – and apparently without consulting advisers – accepts a North Korean invitation to a summit.

The following month Kim and Moon meet in the Demilitarized Zone and agree to pursue denuclearization and a permanent peace treaty.

There is a wobble in May when – just hours after North Korea dismantles its nuclear test site – Trump declares the summit is off.

Some soothing words and a quick inter-Korean summit later, and the Trump-Kim meeting is back on. – Rappler.com

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