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.
When its founding father Kim il-Sung dies in July 1994, North Korea is an isolated, impoverished and relatively insignificant country on the world stage. His son Kim Jong-il becomes the reclusive state’s “Eternal President”. © KNS, AFP
Kim Jong-il, pictured here in September 1998, spearheads North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, persuaded that it is the only guarantee of his regime’s survival. © AFP
A picture of the Yongbyon-1 nuclear facility, taken in 1992. The site’s reactor is temporarily stopped in 1994 following an international accord aimed at freezing the country’s nuclear programme. © HO, IAEA, AFP
Kim Jong-il hosts US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for talks in Pyongyang in October 2000. But the negotiations collapse after North Korea demands $1 billion a year in return for halting missile exports. © David Guttenfelder, Pool, AFP
More than a million people gather in Pyongyang on January 11, 2003, to celebrate the country’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. © Xinhua, AFP
North Korea’s very first nuclear test is announced on state TV on October 9, 2006. The jubilant presenter will soon become a familiar face for viewers around the world.
The death of “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il in December 2011 leads to an outpouring of grief across North Korea. Abroad, Kim’s passing prompts much speculation as to the reclusive state’s future course under his successor. © KNS, KCNA, AFP
The world discovers Kim Jong-il’s baby-faced son and successor, Kim Jong-un. Having studied in Europe, the new Kim seems at first less isolationist than previous Kims. But hopes of a thaw in relations soon give way to disillusion. © AFP
Kim Jong-un is pictured inspecting a military base and observing missile tests on May 22, 2017. His rise to power coincides with a further acceleration of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, and a brazen dismissal of international condemnation. © AFP
Relations with the US hit a new low after Donald Trump's election. On August 8, 2017, Trump threatens to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea continues its weapons programme. A month later, Pyongyang carries out a sixth nuclear test. © Jung Yeon-Je, AFP
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”.
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.
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.
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