After President Trump had called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “little Rocket Man” and threatened to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, 2018 began with uncertainty. Some U.S. allies still hoped to sway Trump on Iran but feared an uncontrollable escalation with North Korea.
By early May, it looked as if the exact opposite would happen. Trump had defied his European allies and withdrawn from the Iran deal, but he was looking forward to a historic U.S.-North Korea summit with Kim, scheduled for June 12.
Then came Trump’s summit cancellation letter Thursday, dragging the world largely back to where it was in January — perhaps with the difference that the president had in the meantime alienated two rogue states, two of the world’s largest military powers besides the United States, and many, many U.S. allies.
The question now is: Will Trump’s tough talk isolate the United States or will it ultimately end up forcing Iran and North Korea to agree to concessions?
Here’s a timeline of the remarkable past three months, as reported by The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield and other correspondents. For clarity, nations alienated by the president’s moves against the North Korean nuclear weapons program and Iran’s nuclear activities are highlighted in red.
North Korea: Feb. 25
North Korea is “willing to have talks” with the United States, South Korea’s presidential Blue House says, as the PyeongChang Winter Olympics close in a burst of fireworks and diplomacy. During an hour-long meeting in PyeongChang, North Korea’s chief representatives at the Closing Ceremonies tell South Korean President Moon Jae-in that Pyongyang is open to dialogue with Washington.
North Korea: March 5
Kim Jong Un hosts a South Korean presidential delegation for “openhearted” talks over dinner in Pyongyang to begin preparations for an inter-Korean summit.
North Korea: March 6
President Trump says North Korea is “sincere” on reported offer to hold nuclear talks.
North Korea: March 8
Trump agrees to meet with Kim for talks, an extraordinary development after months of heightened nuclear tension during which the two leaders exchanged frequent military threats and insults. Kim also commits to stopping nuclear and missile testing, despite ongoing joint military drills in South Korea in April.
Iran: March 16
Trying to persuade Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal, a number of European nations propose new sanctions against Iran. Trump had extended the agreement for another 120 days in January for what he said was “the last time.” That extension was set to run out May 12.
North Korea: March 27
Kim makes a surprise visit to Beijing to discuss the upcoming negotiations with South Korea and the United States.
North Korea: April 17 to 20
Trump welcomes Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in an effort to shore up their relationship. Strains in the U.S.-Japan alliance emerged ahead of Trump’s potential summit with Kim, as concerns mount in Tokyo that Trump’s risky diplomatic gambit with North Korea could undermine Japan’s security.
North Korea: April 18
The White House confirms that CIA Director Mike Pompeo has secretly met with Kim in North Korea.
North Korea: April 20
North Korea says it will suspend nuclear and missile tests and shut down its nuclear test site. Trump tweets: “This is very good news for North Korea and the World.”
Iran: April 24
During a state visit to Washington, French President Emmanuel Macron lobbies Trump to not withdraw from the Iran deal.
Iran: April 27
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoes those efforts during her visit to the White House days later.
North Korea: April 27
Kim steps across the border into South Korea for a day of talks that begin and end with him holding hands with South Korea’s Moon. In the end, they sign a joint statement pledging to work toward their “common goal” of denuclearizing their peninsula and hug.
North Korea: April 29
National security adviser John Bolton says in an interview that he wants the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea” — a high standard that Pyongyang has previously resisted. Bolton, known for his sharply hawkish views, says that North Korea must commit to a disarmament similar to “Libya 2004.” Libya decided to give up its nuclear weapons program in 2003, but Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was later toppled with Western military support — a scenario hard to imagine had the Libyan government obtained nuclear arms.
North Korea: April 30
Trump should get the Nobel Peace Prize for the North Korea talks, Moon says.
Iran: May 4
“Iran will not renegotiate what was agreed years ago and has been implemented,” says Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iran: May 8
Trump abandons the Iran deal. The other agreement parties, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia, vow to uphold the deal, defying the United States. The European Union announces that it will seek to protect European companies willing to continue to trade with Iran. Even though Poland later deviates from that stance, most other E.U. members continue to agree with that position — including Austria, Italy, Belgium, Latvia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Croatia, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia, Portugal, Finland, Romania, France, Slovakia, Germany, Slovenia, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Sweden, Ireland and Britain.
North Korea: May 9
North Korea releases three American prisoners into the custody of now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
North Korea: May 16
North Korea says the United States must stop insisting that the North “unilaterally” abandon its nuclear weapons program and stop talking about a Libya-style solution to the standoff.
North Korea: May 17
Trump keeps talking about Libya and cites it as an example for “what will take place if we don’t make a deal.”
North Korea: May 21
Vice President Pence again cites Libya, saying, “As the president made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal.”
North Korea: May 24
North Korea calls Pence a “political dummy” and threatens a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
“As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president,” says Choe Son Hui, a North Korean vice foreign minister. Still, Pyongyang goes ahead with demolishing its nuclear test site.
Hours later, Trump cancels the denuclearization summit in Singapore scheduled for June 12, citing “open hostility” by North Korea.
North Korea: May 25
North Korea says it is still willing to negotiate with the United States. South Korea’s Moon calls Trump’s summit cancellation “very perplexing.”