2018 a year of remarkable world engagement for North Korea

By Elizabeth Shim
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore. File Photo by Shealah Craighead/ White House
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore. File Photo by Shealah Craighead/ White House | License Photo

NEW YORK, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- 2018 has been an unprecedented year of North Korean engagement with the world.

Kim Jong Un met for the first time with U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korea's Moon Jae-in and China's Xi Jinping. North and South Korea reached new agreements to bring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War and move toward denuclearization.


The United States and South Korea agreed to cancel several joint exercises, but the North did not take concrete steps to give up nuclear weapons. Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang stalled in the second half of the year, as South Korea moved forward with inter-Korea exchange and plans to host Kim in Seoul.

Here is a summary of the major events that transformed North Korea's relations in 2018.



In his New Year's speech on Jan. 1, Kim says North Korea has a nuclear arsenal capable of deterring any threat from the United States. In the same speech, Kim offers to send a delegation to South Korea to discuss Pyongyang's possible participation in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. South Korea responds positively; an inter-Korea hotline is re-established. On Jan. 9, the two Koreas agree to North Korea's participation in the Winter Games.


Front row from left, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, his wife, Kim Jung-sook, Karen Pence, her husband, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchange, South Korea, Standing behind them is North Korean Presidium President Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong (C), Kim Jong Un's sister. File Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI.

Kim sends his younger sister to the South on Feb. 9 to observe the opening ceremony of the Olympics, where athletes of North and South march together under the blue-and-white Korean unification flag. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is seated in the row directly in front of Kim Yo Jong, but the two sides do not meet on the sidelines of the games. The United States and South Korea postpone military drills for the duration of the Olympics.



A top-level South Korean delegation holds talks with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on March 5, and the two sides agree to coordinate a U.S.-North Korea summit in 2018. The delegation meets with Trump at the White House on March 8, and tells reporters Trump has accepted an invitation to meet. Kim then surprises the world by holding a summit with China's Xi on March 28, arriving in Beijing unannounced in an armored train.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold a historic summit in Panmunjom, South Korea, on April 27. File Photo by Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps/UPI

Kim attends a South Korean music concert in Pyongyang on April 1, an event that includes performances from top K-pop artists. Trump sends then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo to the North, and tweets on April 18 the meeting went well, following reports of the undisclosed talks. Kim meets with Moon at a historic summit at the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27, and the two sides agree to establish a "permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."



Kim makes a second surprise visit to China, meeting with Xi again on May 8, this time in the northeastern city of Dalian. North Korea threatens to call off the summit with the United States on May 15, citing U.S.-South Korea joint exercises. Trump cancels the June 12 summit in a letter to Kim on May 24, blaming North Korea's "tremendous anger and hostility," a few days after his administration releases a commemorative coin. Moon wastes no time fixing the impasse, meeting with Kim for a second time in Panmunjom on May 26, a move that is followed by a Pompeo meeting with North Korean Gen. Kim Yong Chol in New York on May 31. The two sides agree to go forward with the summit.


Trump and Kim meet at the historic U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore on June 12, and sign a declaration to establish new bilateral relations. The United States and South Korea suspend defense military exercises scheduled for August on June 18, following impromptu comments from Trump that he wants the drills to end. On June 19 and 20, Kim meets with Xi for the third time in Beijing, where the two sides discuss the U.S.-North Korea meeting.


A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping toasting during a state dinner in Beijing on June 19. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE


Now as secretary of state, Pompeo visits Pyongyang from July 5 to 7, a meeting that Pompeo evaluates positively but North Korea condemns as "unilateral and robber-like." Top Pyongyang official Ri Su Yong travels to Moscow on July 10 in what is seen as a visit to coordinate with the Russians following the U.S.-North Korea summit. South Korea says on July 12 it wants a formal end to the Korean War by the end of 2018. The remains of 55 U.S. servicemen who died in the war are returned to the United States on July 27.


Inter-Korea family reunions are held on Aug. 20 in North Korea's Mount Kumgang, a week after Moon tells South Koreans on Aug. 15 inter-Korea ties are the "driving force" behind denuclearization. The U.S. Treasury hits Russian entities with sanctions on Aug. 21, citing transfers of oil to North Korea. U.S.-North Korea relations take a dip after Aug. 24, when Trump cancels a planned Pompeo trip to North Korea.



North Korea holds a military parade on Sept. 9 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country. A few days later, on Sept. 14, the two Koreas open their first joint liaison office in the North Korean city of Kaesong. On Sept. 19, Pompeo says he would restart negotiations to denuclearize the North by January 2021. Kim and Moon hold their third summit in North Korea from Sept. 18-20. They sign the Pyongyang Joint Declaration and agree to pursue denuclearization. More than a week later, Trump says his policy is working at a rally in West Virginia, telling a crowd he and Kim "fell in love" while exchanging "beautiful letters."


Vice foreign ministers of China, North Korea and Russia hold a trilateral meeting in Moscow on Oct. 9, reaffirming the intention to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and calling on the U.N. Security Council to ease sanctions. The United States and South Korea cancel joint drill Vigilant Ace on Oct. 19, scheduled for December. The U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea human rights says on Oct. 23 North Korea needs to cooperate with the international community on human rights inspections. The U.N. Command and the two Koreas complete the disarmament of the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom on Oct. 25.



A meeting between Pompeo and North Koreans is "postponed" on Nov. 7. A U.S. think tank report on an undeclared North Korean missile base is dismissed by South Korea as "nothing new" on Nov. 13. A new United States and South Korea working group on North Korea meets for the first time on Nov. 20.


North Korea Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho meets with heads of state in Vietnam, Syria and China in the first week of December. South Korea's military says it has inspected the demolished North Korea guard posts and releases photos of the results on Dec. 12. Speculation rises in Seoul that Kim could visit the South by the end of the year, but no clear confirmation is provided to the public.

Latest Headlines