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The year in North Korea with Trump and "Little Rocket Man"

Illustration of three cups and under one is a nuclear warhead.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held their historic summit in Singapore this June, they signed a statement that they would "work toward a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

The big picture: Negotiations have stalled. North Korea is not making a good faith effort to live up to its promises, and the regime has even drawn up its own preconditions for denuclearization that may prove impossible to meet.

Driving this year's news:

  • Tensions began easing in 2018 when North and South Korea entered the Olympics together. Soon after, Trump agreed to meet with Kim later in the year.
  • In the meantime, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo went to North Korea to negotiate. He eventually brought home 3 freed American prisoners.
  • Kim threatened to cancel the planned summit with Trump over U.S.-South Korean military drills in the region, but it was Trump who ended up canceling the meeting when Kim didn’t reveal summit planning details.
  • Kim and Trump ended up meeting in June after all, the first time sitting leaders of the two countries met.
  • They pledged they would work toward "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" in a joint statement.
  • But North Korea has still refused to provide documentation of its nuclear weapons and production sites, and satellite imagery suggests they've ramped up work.

What's next: Pompeo said we "still are working through the execution of Chairman Kim's commitment to denuclearize" and added we are "undoubtedly…in a better place today" compared to a year ago.

  • Pompeo said he hopes Trump and Kim meet in early 2019 to negotiate.
  • North Korea has demanded the U.S. eliminate its own nuclear threats around the Korean peninsula before North Korea denuclearizes.

The bottom line: North Korea has approached denuclearization several times before, and negotiations have always faltered when North Korea sidesteps verification that it has, in fact, denuclearized. This time appears to be no different.

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