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Timeline: North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the shift to diplomacy

© Roslan Rahman, AFP | North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un (L) talks to Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at The Istana, the official residence of the prime minister, on June 10, 2018, ahead of talks with Donald Trump.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2018-06-11

North Korea has been pursuing a missile programme since the 1970s, eventually concluding that a nuclear deterrent was needed to ensure the survival of its dynastic regime. In recent months, however, it has adopted a more diplomatic approach.

After years of fraught relations with the United States and regional neighbours over its nuclear missile programme, North Korea ratcheted up tensions late last year with a series of missile launches over Japan and the announcement in November that its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability now had the entire United States within range.

Within months, however, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared to change tack, offering direct talks with both South Korea and the United States, and meeting for the first time with Chinese President Xi Jinping, to whom he pledged a commitment to denuclearisation. The new diplomatic push will culminate with a bilateral June 12 meeting with US President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Below are some of the key dates in North Korea's quest to develop a nuclear weapons capability and its recent shift toward pursuing diplomacy.


Late 1970s: North Korea begins working on its own version of the Scud missile with a range of 300 kilometres (185 miles). It is test-fired for the first time in 1984.

Late 1980s: Pyongyang starts developing the Rodong-1 (range: 1,300 km), Taepodong-1 (2,500 km), Musudan-1 (3,000 km) and Taepodong-2 (6,700 km) missiles.

August 1998: The Taepodong-1 rocket is test-fired over Japan in what it calls a satellite launch, but which the US and others maintain is actually a missile test.

September 1999: North Korea declares moratorium on long-range missile tests amid improving ties with United States.

July 12, 2000: A fifth round of US-North Korean missile talks in Kuala Lumpur ends without agreement after the North demands $1 billion a year in return for halting its missile exports.

March 3, 2005: Pyongyang ends its moratorium on long-range missile testing, blaming the “hostile” policy pursued by the administration of then US president George W. Bush.

October 9, 2006: North Korea conducts its first underground nuclear test.

April 5, 2009: North Korea launches a long-range rocket that flies over Japan and lands in the Pacific in what it again says is an attempt to put a satellite into orbit. The United States, Japan and South Korea say the launch was actually the test of a Taepodong-2 missile.

May 25, 2009: Pyongyang conducts its second underground nuclear test, several times more powerful than the first.

December 12, 2012: A multi-stage rocket successfully places an observational satellite into orbit.

February 12, 2013: North Korea conducts a third underground nuclear test.

January 6, 2016: A fourth underground nuclear test is carried out that North Korea says was a hydrogen bomb, a claim doubted by most experts.

April 23, 2016: Pyongyang test-fires a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

July 8, 2016: The US and South Korea announce plans to deploy an advanced missile defence system, the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense).

August 3, 2016: North Korea fires a ballistic missile directly into Japan's maritime economic zone for the first time.

September 9, 2016: A fifth nuclear test is conducted.

March 6, 2017: North Korea fires four ballistic missiles in what it says is an exercise aimed at striking US military bases in Japan. The next day the US begins deploying its THAAD missile defence system in South Korea.

May 2, 2017: The United States announces that its THAAD missile defence system is now "operational" in South Korea.

May 14, 2017: North Korea fires a ballistic missile that flies 700 km before landing in the Sea of Japan. Analysts say it has a theoretical range of 4,500 kilometres (2,800 miles) and brings the US territory of Guam within reach.

July 4, 2017: Pyongyang test-fires a ballistic missile that analysts say brings Alaska into range. North Korean state media call it a "landmark" test of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile.

July 28, 2017: North Korea launches an ICBM with a theoretical range of 10,000 kilometres, meaning it could hit much of the continental United States.

August 29, 2017: North Korea fires a ballistic missile over Japan, prompting the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to warn people to take cover in an incident he called an "unprecedented, serious and grave threat".

September 3, 2017: Pyongyang carries out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date, generating a 6.3-magnitude earthquake. Japanese analysts estimated the device's explosive yield at 160 kilotons, making it 10 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. Pyongyang also claims it has developed a miniaturised H-bomb that can be loaded onto a missile.

A secondary tremor detected at the site could have been caused by the collapse of a tunnel, Chinese geologists say, a theory bolstered by satellite images of a landslide at the site. The collapse may have rendered the nuclear site unusable.

September 15, 2017: North Korea fires another ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific in what appears to be its furthest-ever missile flight. Millions of Japanese were awoken by sirens and emergency text message alerts. The UN Security Council condemns the launch as "highly provocative".

November 28, 2017: North Korea announces the successful launch of a Hwasong-15 ICBM, which Pyongyang says now puts all of the US mainland in its missile range.

December 22, 2017: The UN Security Council unanimously votes to impose new sanctions on North Korea’s economy following its latest missile test, limiting its oil imports and demanding the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad.

December 24, 2017: Pyongyang slams the new UN sanctions as “an act of war”.

>> Portrait: Kim Jong-un, a 'pragmatic' leader determined to remain in power

February 9, 2018: Kim Jong-un's sister attends the Winter Olympics in South Korea, becoming the first member of the ruling family to set foot in the South since the Korean War.

March 6, 2018: North Korea agrees to a possible summit with South Korea and a possible nuclear freeze, saying it would consider abandoning its nuclear programme in exchange for security guarantees.

March 8, 2018: Trump accepts an invitation from Kim Jong-un for direct talks.

March 28, 2018: Kim makes his first-ever official trip to meet China's President Xi Jinping, saying he is "committed to denuclearisation" and expressing his willingness to hold summits with both South Korea and the United States.

April, 2018: CIA director Mike Pompeo, now secretary of state, makes a top-secret trip to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-un.

>> War of words: From ‘Mad man’ to ‘Rocket man’, the undiplomatic diplomacy behind the North Korea summit

April 21, 2018: Kim says North Korea no longer needs to conduct nuclear or missile tests because it has achieved its goal of developing nuclear weapons, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). "We will concentrate all efforts on building a powerful socialist economy and markedly improving the standard of people's living,” KCNA reported him as saying.

Some scientists surmise that the September collapse of North Korea's nuclear test site, which may have rendered it inoperative, was behind Kim's announcement rather than any change of heart.

April 28, 2018: Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledge to work for the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” after the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade.

May 10, 2018: Taking to Twitter, Trump announces June 12 as the date for his face-to-face summit with Kim. The announcement came hours after Trump welcomed three US citizens released by Pyongyang when they landed near Washington.

May 24, 2018: North Korea dismantles its Punggye-ri nuclear test site in a goodwill gesture ahead of a summit with the United States, inviting foreign journalists to witness the demolition. Analysts remain divided over whether the destruction actually renders the test site inert, however. 

June 12, 2018: A historic face-to-face between the North Korean and US leaders is scheduled to take place in Singapore. Besides negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear missile programme, the highly anticipated talks are also likely to focus on economic sanctions against North Korea and the larger situation on the Korean Peninsula, where the two sides officially remain at war.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2018-06-11

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