Yes, even dictators get cold feet.
Wednesday’s news that North Korea was considering calling off Kim Jong Un’s planned June meeting with President Donald Trump reflected a pattern by the unpredictable regime: diplomatic outreach, followed by erratic behavior and, in many cases, an outright rejection of peace overtures.
Here’s a look at some other times when the North did a sudden about-face:
After its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, North Korea agreed to take part in six-party talks with the United States and regional powers, and pledged in 2005 to “abandon nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.” But the following year it conducted its first nuclear test.
By 2009, after months of provocative behavior, Pyongyang said it would permanently pull out of nuclear disarmament talks and restart its nuclear program, and it expelled United Nations inspectors from the country.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush declared North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, part of an “axis of evil,” but toward the end of his term his advisers softened that approach.
In 2008, Washington dropped North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and agreed to send the North economic aid in return for Pyongyang disclosing and disabling its nuclear facilities. But by December that agreement had collapsed, after North Korea refused to allow for a system of verifying its compliance with the deal.
President Barack Obama’s approach to North Korea included steadily tightening economic pressure, while allowing U.S. diplomats to quietly meet with their North Korean counterparts.
That resulted in a deal, announced in February 2012, in which North Korea was to halt operations at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and permit inspectors to verify that it had suspended its nuclear and missile programs. The United States, in return, pledged to offer food aid to North Korea. The deal raised hopes that Kim, then the country’s new leader, was open to working with the West to reduce tensions.
But within a month North Korea threatened to launch a satellite, killing the agreement.
In 2015, Kim’s favorite pop band was supposed to travel to China for its first performance outside the country. The Moranbong Band was known for performing Western pop songs and North Korean revolutionary standards in tight dresses and high heels, and its roughly 20 members were reportedly hand-picked by Kim.
But hours before they were to perform, the band abruptly left Beijing. North Korea did not explain the reason for the musicians’ departure, and the episode reinforced perceptions about the unpredictable nature of the country’s young leader.
Kim’s recent diplomatic outreach kicked into high gear in February of this year during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But the road to thawing relations with its archenemy, South Korea, was rocky.
Weeks before the Olympics, the North canceled a joint cultural event it had planned to hold with South Korean K-pop bands, blaming “insulting” South Korean news coverage of its participation in the Winter Olympics.
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