April 30, 2019

Where We Stand With North Korea


  • President Trump walked away from his most recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rather than lift sanctions in exchange for dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
  • North Korea has not tested an intercontinental ballistic missile or large rocket since November 2017, though it did test a small tactical missile on April 17.
  • President Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier this month, when the two leaders agreed on the goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. 

After the June 2018 Singapore summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, there was cautious optimism that a breakthrough in diplomatic relations could occur. Shortly after the meeting between the two leaders, President Trump stated via Twitter that North Korea was “no longer a Nuclear Threat.” He has said that North Korea has not resumed testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles since the end of 2017 – 17 months ago.

No Ballistic Missile Test for 17 Months

North Korea

Trump-kim summit in hanoi

In February 2019, President Trump held a second summit meeting with Kim, this time in Hanoi. After the first meeting, there had been no meaningful progress toward dismantling or reporting of North Korean nuclear programs. At the same time, Kim did not resume missile tests.

The United States has generally maintained that the next step in the negotiations is for North Korea to identify its nuclear weapons and its capacity to produce weapons-grade nuclear material. North Korea has resisted even this minor step toward a nuclear inventory.

According to press reports, President Trump opened the Hanoi summit with a “grand bargain” offer to Kim to end all sanctions on North Korea if Kim would give up all nuclear weapons, material, and facilities. North Korea has rejected such offers in the past and reportedly did so again, preferring to denuclearize in stages.

Kim is said to have offered President Trump a smaller agreement to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for significant sanctions relief. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. officials opposed this option, since North Korea has nuclear missiles and weapon systems other than Yongbyon. Sanctions relief would provide North Korea with much-needed hard currency and would remove its incentive to continue talks with the United States.

relations between the u.s. and south korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with President Trump at the White House on April 11. The two leaders discussed the sanctions on North Korea and the possibility of a third summit between President Trump and Kim. Moon said that there will be no daylight between the United States and South Korea on the way ahead for peace, which will include a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and continuing to talk with North Korea. A third summit between President Trump and Kim has not been announced yet.

President Trump directed the U.S. military to halt its biannual joint training exercises with South Korea’s military before the 2018 Singapore summit. These exercises have not resumed, though the two sides are conducting smaller joint drills.

North Korea regularly protests these joint military exercises and says they are highly provocative. U.S. military leaders maintain they are needed to ensure a credible deterrent. Some active duty and retired officers have voiced concerns that cancelling the exercises could decrease readiness of our forces in the area. Secretary Pompeo has defended the decision to stop the larger exercises, saying: “We will also always be prepared to defend American interests everywhere. So the American people need not worry about readiness issues for the United States military.”

U.S. and north korean actions after hanoi

North Korea’s diplomats recently admitted the Hanoi summit was a failure and blamed the lack of an agreement on the United States. They also suggested they may terminate the negotiations that have been going on for nearly a year.

On April 17, North Korea announced its test of a small tactical missile. Many international observers believe this was intended as a message to the United States that Kim may resume testing larger ballistic weapons with greater range if he does not get sanctions relief. The announcement also may have been used for Kim’s domestic propaganda purposes, to compensate for his failure to obtain sanctions relief. North Korea has also demanded that Secretary Pompeo no longer be involved in the negotiations. After Kim met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 25, North Korean state media issued a deadline of the end of 2019 for the United States to provide additional options for the next step in nuclear negotiations.  

Meanwhile, North Korea continues to evade sanctions. The United Nations recently released a report documenting how North Korea transfers oil and fuel illegally at sea and placing blame on the financial institutions that support the activities.

The Treasury Department announced on March 21 that it was sanctioning two Chinese shipping companies for illegally doing business with North Korean entities and warned other shipping companies to comply with sanctions prohibiting trade of certain goods. On March 22, President Trump announced that he was not approving any new sanctions against North Korea for now.

Issue Tag: National Security