North Korea–United States relations are hostile and have developed primarily during the Korean War, but in recent years have been largely defined by North Korea's five tests of nuclear weapons, its development of long-range missiles capable of striking targets thousands of miles away, and its ongoing threats to strike the United States and South Korea with nuclear weapons and conventional forces.
The United Nations divided Korea after World War II, intending it as a temporary measure. However, the breakdown of relations between the U.S. and USSR prevented a reunification. During the U.S. army's occupation of South Korea, relations between the U.S. and North Korea were conducted through the Soviet military government in the North. Because of North Korea's "submission" to Soviet pressures, and because of mass opposition to the U.S. occupation of the mortal enemy Japan, North Koreans in this period denounced the United States and began to form a negative view of the U.S.
On September 9, 1948, Kim Il-sung declared the Democratic People's Republic of Korea; he promptly received diplomatic recognition from the Soviet Union, but not the United States. The U.S. did not extend, and has never extended, diplomatic recognition to the DPRK. After 1948, the withdrawal of most American troops from the peninsula actually intensified Kim Il-Sung's anti-American rhetoric, often asserting that the U.S. was a capitalist imperialist successor to Japan, a view the country still holds today. In December 1950, the United States initiated economic sanctions against the DPRK under the Trading with the Enemy Act which lasted until 2008.
North and South Korea were proclaimed as separate and independent countries in 1948, but two years later Pyongyang sent 75,000 troops into the South, sparking the Korean War.
The US led a United Nations effort to support South Korea in the battle, which ended with an armistice in July 1953.
North Koreans had their closest encounter with the United States during the US/UN occupation of North Korea in the two months after the Inchon landing. With help from the ROK Army, the United States' military, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, moved to set up a civil administration for North Korea in the wake of the presumed destruction of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea by the South Korean threat. MacArthur planned to find North Korean generals, especially Kim Il-Sung, and try them as war criminals.
Post-war, North Korea became a hermit state built on communist Juche ideology – isolated from the world and its enemies.
Official North Korea state propaganda teaches its citizens of an everlasting struggle against the US.
Kim Jong-Il, the country’s first leader, said: “The American imperialists and Japanese militarism are the sworn enemies of the North Korean people.”
Je Son Lee, North Korean defector and writer for NK News, lifted the lid on some the official state propaganda in xxxx.
“The North Korean regime claims that US soldiers tore off the limbs of innocent Koreans and cut off eyes, noses and lips and hung them on the trees,” he wrote.
On January 23, 1968, a US spy ship was captured. The incident was known as Pueblo incident. On April 15, 1969, EC-121 was shot down over the Sea of Japan by North Korea; 31 American service men died. On August 18, 1976, Captain Arthur Bonifas and Lieutenant Mark Barrett were killed by the North Korean Army in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
North Korea and the United States had little to no relations during this time, except through the structures created by the Korean Armistice Agreement.
U.S.–North Korea talks began in June 1993 but with lack of progress in developing and implementing an agreement, North Koreans unloaded the core of a major nuclear reactor, which could have provided enough raw material for several nuclear weapons. With tensions high, Kim Il Sung invited former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to act as an intermediary. Carter accepted the invitation, but could only act as a private citizen not a government representative. Carter managed to bring the two states to the negotiating table, with Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Robert Gallucci representing the United States and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju representing his country.
The negotiators successfully reached the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework in October 1994:
In January 1995, as called for in the Agreed Framework, the United States and North Korea negotiated a method to safely store the spent fuel from the five-megawatt reactor. According to this method, U.S. and North Korean operators would work together to can the spent fuel and store the canisters in the spent fuel pond. Actual canning began in 1995. In April 2000, canning of all accessible spent fuel rods and rod fragments was declared complete.
George W. Bush announced his opposition to the Agreed Framework during his presidential candidacy. Following his inauguration in January 2001, the new administration began a review of its policy toward North Korea. At the conclusion of that review, the administration announced on June 6, 2001, that it had decided to pursue continued dialogue with North Korea on the full range of issues of concern to the administration, including North Korea's conventional force posture, missile development and export programs, human rights practices, and humanitarian issues.
In 2002 the US Government announced that it would release $95m to North Korea as part of the Agreed Framework. In releasing the funding, President George W Bush waived the Framework's requirement that North Korea allow inspectors to ensure it has not hidden away any weapons-grade plutonium from the original reactors. President Bush argued that the decision was "vital to the national security interests of the United States".
In 2002, the administration asserted that North Korea was developing a uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons purposes. American-DPRK tensions mounted when Bush categorized North Korea as part of the "Axis of Evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address.
When U.S.-DPRK direct dialogue resumed in October 2002, this uranium-enrichment program was high on the U.S. agenda. North Korean officials acknowledged to a U.S. delegation, headed by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James A. Kelly, the existence of the uranium enrichment program.
In December 2002, Spanish troops boarded and detained a shipment of Scud missiles from North Korea destined for Yemen, at the United States' request. After two days, the United States released the ship to continue its shipment to Yemen. This further strained the relationship between the US and North Korea, with North Korea characterizing the boarding an "act of piracy".
In late 2002 and early 2003, North Korea terminated the freeze on its existing plutonium-based nuclear facilities, expelled IAEA inspectors and removed seals and monitoring equipment, quit the NPT, and resumed reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium for weapons purposes. North Korea subsequently announced that it was taking these steps to provide itself with a deterrent force in the face of U.S. threats and the U.S.'s "hostile policy". Beginning in mid-2003, the North repeatedly claimed to have completed reprocessing of the spent fuel rods previously frozen at Yongbyon and lain cooperation with North Korea's neighbors, who have also expressed concern over the threat to regional stability and security they believe it poses. The Bush Administration's stated goal is the complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. North Korea's neighbors have joined the United States in supporting a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula. U.S. actions, however, had been much more hostile to normalized relations with North Korea, and the administration continued to suggest regime change as a primary goal. The Bush Administration had consistently resisted two-party talks with the DPRK. A September 2005 agreement took place only after the Chinese government threatened to publicly accuse the U.S. of refusal to engage in negotiations.
In September 2005, immediately following the September 19 agreement, relations between the countries were further strained by US allegations of North Korean counterfeiting of American dollars. The US alleges that North Korea produces $15 million worth of supernotes every year, and has induced banks in Macau and elsewhere to end business with North Korea. Such claims of counterfeiting date back to 1989, so the timing of the U.S. claims is suspect. Some experts doubt North Korea has the capacity to produce such notes, and U.S. financial auditors have been analyzing records seized from the Macau bank and have yet to make a formal charge. In 2007, it was reported that an audit by Ernst & Young had found no evidence that the bank had facilitated North Korean money-laundering.
At various times during the Bush administration Dong Moon Joo, the president of The Washington Times, undertook unofficial diplomatic missions to North Korea in an effort to improve relations.
February 13, 2007, agreement in the Six-Party Talks – among the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, China, and Russia – called for other actions besides a path toward a denuclearized Korean peninsula. It also outlined steps toward the normalization of political relations with Pyongyang, a replacement of the Korean Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty, and the building of a regional peace structure for Northeast Asia.
In exchange for substantial fuel aid, North Korea agreed to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility. The United States also agreed to begin discussions on normalization of relations with North Korea, and to begin the process of removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Implementation of this agreement has been successful so far, with US Chief Negotiator Christopher R. Hill saying North Korea has adhered to its commitments. The sixth round of talks commencing on March 19, 2007, discussed the future of the North Korean nuclear weapons program
Starting in late August 2008, North Korea allegedly resumed its nuclear activities at the Yongbyon nuclear facility, apparently moving equipment and nuclear supplies back onto the facility grounds. Since then, North Korean activity at the facility has steadily increased, with North Korea threatening Yongbyon's possible reactivation.
North Korea has argued that the U.S. has failed to fulfill its promises in the disarmament process, having not removed the country from its "State Sponsors of Terrorism" list or sent the promised aid to the country. The U.S. has recently stated that it will not remove the North from its list until it has affirmed that North Korea will push forward with its continued disarmament. North Korea has since barred IAEA inspectors from the Yongbyon site, and the South has claimed that the North is pushing for the manufacture of a nuclear warhead. The North has recently conducted tests on short-range missiles. The U.S. is encouraging the resumption of six-party talks.
On October 11, 2008, the U.S. and North Korea secured an agreement in which North Korea agreed to resume disarmament of its nuclear program and once again allowed inspectors to conduct forensic tests of its available nuclear materials. The North also agreed to provide full details on its long-rumored uranium program. These latest developments culminated in North Korea's long-awaited removal from America's "State Sponsors of Terrorism" list on the same day.
American-North Korean relations have further been strained by the arrest of two American journalists on March 17, 2009. The two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV, were arrested on the North Korean border in China while supposedly filming a documentary on the trafficking of women and allegedly crossing into North Korea in the process. North Korea subsequently tried the two journalists amid international protests and found them guilty of the charges, and sentenced them to twelve years of hard labor. The U.S. criticized the act as a "sham trial".
The ordeal was finally resolved on August 4, when former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in Pyongyang in what he described as a "solely private mission" to secure the release of the two American journalists.
On May 25, 2009, American-North Korean relations further deteriorated when North Korea conducted yet another nuclear test, the first since the 2006 test. The test was once again conducted underground and exploded with a yield comparable to the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. The United States reacted favorably to China and Russia's reactions, who condemned North Korea's actions even though they are both strong allies of North Korea. The U.S., along with all other members of the stalled six-party talks, strongly condemned the test and said that North Korea would "pay a price for its actions." The U.S. also strongly condemned the subsequent series of short-range missile tests that have followed the detonation.
On May 24, 2010, the United States set plans to participate in new military exercises with South Korea as a direct military response to the sinking of a South Korean warship by what officials called a North Korean torpedo.
On May 28, 2010, the official (North) Korean Central News Agency stated that "it is the United States that is behind the case of 'Cheonan.' The investigation was steered by the U.S. from its very outset." It also accused the United States of manipulating the investigation and named the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama directly of using the case for "escalating instability in the Asia-Pacific region, containing big powers and emerging unchallenged in the region." The report indicated to the United States to "behave itself, mindful of the grave consequences."
Following Kim Jong-il's death on December 17, 2011, his son Kim Jong-un inherited the regime. The latter announced on February 29, 2012 that North Korea will freeze nuclear tests, long-range missile launches, and uranium enrichment at its Yongbyon plant. In addition, the new leader invited international nuclear inspectors who were ejected in 2009. The Obama administration responded by offering 240,000 tonnes of food, chiefly in the form of biscuits. This indicated a softening of the west regarding North Korea's insistence that food aid must comprise grains.
Just over two weeks later on March 16, 2012, North Korea announced it would launch its Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 satellite to mark the 100th anniversary of the late Kim Il-sung's birthday. This announcement triggered American anxiety as satellite launches are technologically contiguous with missile launches. This tampered with Kim Jong-un's earlier optimistic overtures and generated speculation on the issues confronting the new and young leader back in North Korea.The United States also suspended food aid to North Korea in retaliation for the missile plans.
On December 11, 2012, North Korea successfully launched a missile in contrast to its failure in March. The United States strongly condemned the action as it is widely believed that North Korea are developing long range ballistic missiles that would reach the west coast of the US. On January 24, 2013, officials in North Korea openly stated that they intended to plan out a third nuclear test. A written statement from the National Defence Commission of North Korea stated "a nuclear test of higher level will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people." The United States intelligence community believes that, as of January 2013, North Korea has the capability to target Hawaii with its current technology and resources, and could reach the contiguous United States within three years. The White House has declared the Korean statement as "needlessly provocative" and that "further provocations would only increase Pyongyang’s isolation."
On February 12, 2013, North Korea conducted a third nuclear test.
On March 29, 2013, Kim Jong-un threatened the United States by "declaring that rockets were ready to be fired at American bases in the Pacific." The declaration was in response to two B2 stealth bombers that flew over the Korean peninsula on the day before. After Jong-un's declaration, the Pentagon called for an advanced missile defense system to the western Pacific on April 3. United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, said that North Korea posed "a real and clear danger" to not only the United States, but Japan and South Korea as well.
On April 26, 2013, North Korea said it had arrested a U.S. citizen for committing an unspecified crime against the country. U.S. officials said that person was Kenneth Bae. On May 2, 2013, Bae was convicted of "hostile acts" and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. The U.S. has called for his release but North Korea has rejected any possibility of allowing prominent Americans to visit the country to request his release.
On June 25, 2014, North Korean officials condemned Seth Rogen and James Franco's upcoming movie The Interview for its portrayal of Kim Jong-un, promising a "merciless" reaction if the film is released. A spokesperson of the Korean Central News Agency cited a government representative when describing the film as a "blatant act of terrorism and war".The North Korean government warned of "a decisive and merciless countermeasure" if the release of the film went ahead.
On January 6, 2016, North Korea conducted a fourth nuclear test. North Korean officials also announced that North Korean scientists have miniaturized nuclear weapons.
U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that a test occurred. Tony Snow, President George W. Bush’s White House Press Secretary, said that the United States would go to the United Nations to determine "what our next steps should be in response to this very serious step." On Monday, October 9, 2006, President Bush stated in a televised speech that such a claim of a test is a "provocative act" and the U.S. condemns such acts. President Bush stated that the United States is "committed to diplomacy" but will "continue to protect America and America's interests."
A senior North Korean official has accused the US of turning the Korean peninsula into “the world’s biggest hotspot” and creating “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment”.
North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador, Kim In-ryong, described US-South Korean military exercises as the largest ever “aggressive war drill” and said his country was “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US”.
Kim’s warning came as the US vice-president, Mike Pence, assured Japan that Washington would work closely with its allies in the region to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis and denuclearise the Korean peninsula.
“While all options are on the table,” Pence said, “President Trump is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region, and with China.”
Following the April 3, 2017 U.S. missile strikes in Shayrat, Syria in response to the chemical attack, tensions had mounted as President Trump weighed further military options against North Korea's ballistic missile program. In the second week of April 2017, global media outlets erroneously reported that the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier had been deployed to the Sea of Japan heading towards North Korea, as a result of confusion created by a "miscommunication" between the "Pentagon and the White House." A premature announcement on April 8 from the Navy led to a "glitch-ridden sequence of events". April 17 North Korea’s deputy United Nations ambassador accused the United States of "turning the Korean peninsula into "the world’s biggest hotspot" and the North Korean government stated "its readiness to declare war on the United States if North Korean forces were to be attacked." In reality on April 18, the Carl Vinson and its escorts were 3,500 miles from Korea engaged in scheduled joint Royal Australian Navy exercises in the Indian Ocean. The Carl Vinson aircraft carrier had been in the South China Sea in 2015 and again in February 2017 on routine patrols.
North Korea has fired what appears to be a ballistic missile from its west coast, a Seoul military official has said, in an apparent test of South Korea's new president Moon Jae-in.
If confirmed, the launch will be North Korea's sixth missile test, including two last year. The projectile flew 430 miles for 30 minutes and landed in the Sea of Japan, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga confirmed on Sunday. He maintained that Japan is "strongly protesting" the launch.
The White House released a statement following news of the launch, which read:
'The President has been briefed on the latest missile test by North Korea,'
'With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil - in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan - the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased.
'North Korea has been a flagrant menace for far too long. South Korea and Japan have been watching this situation closely with us. The United States maintains our ironclad commitment to stand with our allies in the face of the serious threat posed by North Korea. Let this latest provocation serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea,' the statement concluded.