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Korean Peninsula

The recent exchange of aggressive rhetoric between North Korea and the U.S. over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions and missile program has been one of the most vitriolic to date, posing a serious threat to security in the region and beyond. North Korea continues to violate UN resolutions as it accelerates its nuclear program and carries out ballistic missile tests at a quickened pace. Beijing, its most important ally and trading partner, is frustrated by its neighbour’s policy but prefers continuity of the status quo to the instability that would follow radical change. Crisis Group works to decrease the risk of nuclear and conventional war on the peninsula while directing our regional and global advocacy at identifying opportunities for cooperation between stakeholders on all sides.

CrisisWatch Korean Peninsula

Unchanged Situation

Uncertainty over denuclearisation talks continued following abrupt end of late Feb U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, also setting back inter-Korean ties. Observers blamed unrealistic expectations on both sides, while North Korean Vice FM Choe Son-hui 15 March told press conference in Pyongyang that U.S. President Trump had been prepared to consider sanctions relief with provisions to reapply them if Pyongyang violated commitments, but Sec State Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton blocked move; also said Pyongyang may rethink ban on nuclear and missile tests absent concessions from Washington. U.S. General Abrams told House Armed Services Committee that observed North Korean activities were “inconsistent with denuclearisation”. Following fraught discussions, South Korea and U.S. 8 March signed new one-year Special Measures Agreement, under which South Korea is to raise its annual cost-sharing contribution for U.S. Forces Korea to nearly $920mn, up from approximately $800 million during previous agreement; U.S. used opportunity to publicly reaffirm strength of alliance. Inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong thrown into turmoil as North Korean staff 22 March informed South Korea of intent to withdraw from operations, allegedly under direction of Kim Jong-un, leading to concerns of abandonment of key aspect of broader inter-Korean talks; however half of North Korean staff came to work 25 March, reportedly after Trump attempted to reverse sanctions on two Chinese entities accused of doing business with DPRK. Pyongyang 31 March said that 22 Feb break-in at its embassy in Spain was a “terrorist attack” and called for investigation, intimating the possibility of state-level involvement.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

14 Mar 2019
Any US government that is serious about making headway with NK in negotiations should be quietly funding info freedom activities as well. Twitter

Christopher Green

Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula
28 Feb 2019
For the U.S., it would be politically unacceptable and a terrible idea to trade all economic sanctions for the dismantlement of Yongbyon, as Kim seems to have demanded. Reuters

Christopher Green

Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula
28 Feb 2019
The @realDonaldTrump and @SecPompeo presser this afternoon was revealing, & seems to give contours of a path forward. For one thing, Trump emphasized productivity of discussion and positivity of tone on all sides. Doesn't mean it wasn't a setback, but talks will likely continue. Twitter

Christopher Green

Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula
4 Jan 2019
A relatively modest trade would help kickstart a more meaningful diplomatic process [between the U.S. and North Korea]. A verified shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility wouldn’t end North Korea’s program but it could be significant. Washington Examiner

Stephen Pomper

Program Director, United States
23 Sep 2018
The [U.S.] president is prepared to bluster and threaten, but he also wants to achieve the deal of the century. With North Korea, it worked because he had a willing partner. The problem he’s going to face with Iran is that the leaders there believe a meeting would validate his strategy The New York Times

Robert Malley

President & CEO
26 Jul 2018
Broadly speaking, one side [the U.S.] wants denuclearization first, normalization of relations later, and the other [North Korea] wants normalization of relations first, then denuclearization later. Reuters

Christopher Green

Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula

Latest Updates

Commentary / Asia

After the Trump-Kim Summit: Now Comes the Hard Part

Last week the world watched the first-ever meeting between a North Korean leader and a U.S. president. Crisis Group offers a 360-degree view of how the summit played in the U.S., the Korean peninsula, China and Japan – and what it may mean going forward.

Also available in 简体中文
Op-Ed / United States

Why Trump Should Take It Slow With Kim Jong Un

Any successful deal with North Korea will require an extraordinary amount of patience and attention to detail.

Originally published in Politico Magazine

Report / United States

Deep Freeze and Beyond: Making the Trump-Kim Summit a Success

The greatest risk to the 12 June summit between the U.S. and North Korea is mismatched expectations. To avoid a return to escalatory rhetoric, both parties should keep hopes modest and adopt an action-for-action approach as part of a four-step plan for denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

Also available in 한국어, 简体中文
Commentary / Asia

Trilateral North East Asia Summit Signals a Return to Cooperation

Facing uncertain times in U.S. policy and a pivot to diplomacy from North Korea, leaders of China, Japan and South Korea met in Tokyo on 9 May to downplay historical grievances and show their support for denuclearisation, trade and better relations. But underlying disputes could still resurface.

Also available in 简体中文
Commentary / Asia

Korean Presidents’ Meeting is a Memorable Step Forward

Symbolism and substance combined to make the 27 April meeting between the North and South Korean presidents a momentous occasion. Much needs to be done to overcome scepticism from past failures, but the concrete timeline the two countries laid out in the Panmunjom Declaration could lead to transformative steps.

Also available in 简体中文

Our People

Christopher Green

Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula