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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

North Korea and U.S. tentatively agreed to second summit in Feb, and held significant working-level talks with South Korean involvement to lay groundwork; however, optimism tempered by substantive differences between sides. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in annual televised address 1 Jan pushed to revive dialogue with U.S. and move forward on collaborative projects with South Korea; emphasized potential for progress in talks with both Washington and Seoul as long as existing agreements are implemented. Kim declared that North Korea is not currently building, testing, using, or proliferating nuclear weapons; also warned U.S. against “attempts to unilaterally enforce something upon us” (meaning unilateral denuclearisation) and “imposing sanctions and pressure”, and warned against restarting U.S.-ROK joint military exercises or U.S. deploying strategic military assets to South Korea. Kim visited China for fourth time 7-10 Jan, reportedly agreeing with President Xi to “push for continuous new development of China-DPRK relations”. North Korea’s senior representative in talks with U.S., Gen. Kim Yong-chol, arrived in Washington 17 Jan for first round of talks with Sec State Pompeo since Oct. U.S. VP Pence 20 Jan said U.S. will lay out expectations for North Korea to “take concrete steps to begin to make real the denuclearization that Kim Jong-un committed to”. U.S. representative to working-level talks Stephen Biegun met with North Korean delegation in Sweden 19-21 Jan to prepare for summit; South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy took part in trilateral discussions. South Korean conservatives began to express concerns over U.S. aims in North Korea dialogue: that U.S. may be seeking deal with Pyongyang centered on its inter-continental ballistic missile capacity and freezing its nuclear weapons program but accepting its possession of nuclear weapons at existing levels. Deliveries of humanitarian aid to North Korea began after UN granted sanctions waivers to several international NGOs.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

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
2 Jul 2018
[Pyongyang is] trying to encourage China to lobby for the sanctions to be lifted and to provide financial help, trade and investment. China’s long-standing policy has been to encourage engagement and try to change North Korean behaviour through trade and development. So as long as North Korea refrains from provocations, we can expect this dialogue to continue. South China Morning Post

Michael Kovrig

Senior Adviser, North East Asia
13 Jun 2018
I think Kim wanted to win the hearts [of people] and draw some sympathy for himself and his regime, as part of an effort to weaken resolve to maintain sanctions and pressure. South China Morning Post

Michael Kovrig

Senior Adviser, North East Asia
28 May 2018
[South Korean] President Moon has brought South Korea into the middle of the frame (...) and he again showed Trump the mesmerizing all-consuming media impact that a summit can have — something that’s bound to appeal.”​ Time

Stephen Pomper

Program Director, United States

Latest Updates

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

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
Commentary / Asia

China Moves Centre Stage in Korean Peninsula Peace Efforts

After weeks in which other actors have taken notable steps towards defusing fears of war over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, a China-North Korea summit held 26-27 March in Beijing has reasserted China’s pivotal role in efforts to find a solution to the nuclear crisis.

Also available in 简体中文
Commentary / Asia

The Modest Diplomatic Promise of North Korea’s Charm Offensive

Following the first inter-Korean summit in ten years, the announcement that President Trump will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a promising sign. Although Pyongyang is unlikely to change its strategic course, the summit provides an opportunity for the U.S. to pair its maximum pressure with diplomacy and coordinate with Asian powers.

Also available in 简体中文

Our People

Christopher Green

Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula