U.S. Relations With North Korea

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Fact Sheet
October 18, 2016


More information about North Korea is available on the North Korea Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.

U.S.-NORTH KOREA RELATIONS

The United States and Korea’s Joseon Dynasty established diplomatic relations under the 1882 Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, and the first U.S. diplomatic envoy arrived in Korea in 1883. U.S.-Korea relations continued until 1905, when Japan assumed direction over Korean foreign affairs. In 1910, Japan began a 35-year period of colonial rule over Korea. Following Japan's surrender in 1945 at the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel into two occupation zones, with the United States in the South and the Soviet Union in the North. Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea were not realized, and in 1948 two separate nations were established -- the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the South, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the North.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. Led by the United States, a United Nations coalition of 16 countries undertook the defense of South Korea. Following China's entry into the war on behalf of North Korea later that year, a stalemate ensued for the final two years of the conflict until an armistice was concluded on July 27, 1953. A peace treaty has never been signed. North and South Korea have had a difficult and, at times, bitter relationship since the Korean War. The two countries are separated by a demilitarized zone. During the postwar period, both Korean governments have repeatedly affirmed their desire to reunify the Korean Peninsula, but until 1971 the two governments had no direct, official communications or other contact. North Korea has been ruled by successive generations of Kim Il Sung’s family, and its political and economic structure is centrally controlled.

The United States supports the peaceful reunification of Korea on terms acceptable to the Korean people and recognizes that the future of the Korean Peninsula is primarily a matter for them to decide. The United States believes that a constructive and serious dialogue between North and South Korea is necessary to improve inter-Korean relations and to resolve outstanding problems, including the North's attempts to develop a nuclear program and its human rights abuses.

In 1994, the United States and North Korea reached agreement on a roadmap for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In 2003, the United States proposed multilateral talks on the North Korean nuclear issue. Several rounds of Six-Party Talks have been held since then, with the last round occurring in 2009. Although North Korea has at times said it will take steps toward denuclearization, it has continued to conduct tests in violation of international law, including two nuclear tests and over 20 ballistic missile launches in 2016 alone. The United States has called on North Korea to take concrete, irreversible denuclearization steps toward fulfillment of the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, comply with international law including United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), cease provocative behaviors, and take steps to improve relations with its neighbors.

U.S. Assistance to North Korea

Most forms of U.S. economic assistance, other than purely humanitarian assistance, are prohibited. The United States has provided food and other emergency aid to North Korea during times of famine and natural disasters. The United States has also assisted U.S. NGOs in providing aid to fight the outbreak of infectious diseases and to improve farming practices and agricultural output in rural areas.

Bilateral Economic Relations

The United States imposed a near total economic embargo on North Korea in 1950 when North Korea attacked the South. Over the following years, some U.S. sanctions were eased, but others were imposed. Most recently, Executive Order 13687 was imposed on January 2, 2015, in the wake of the DPRK’s cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Executive Order 13722, on March 16, 2016, following recent missile launches and a nuclear test in January of that year. These constitute the most restrictive sanctions on North Korea to date.

North Korea's Membership in International Organizations

North Korea and the United States belong to some of the same international organizations, including the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum.

Bilateral Representation

The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. The Swedish Embassy in North Korea is the U.S. protecting power and provides limited consular services to U.S. citizens. The U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy is Ambassador Joseph Yun. The U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues is Ambassador Robert King. The Acting U.S. Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks is Mark Lambert.

North Korea has no embassy in Washington, DC, but it is represented in the United States through its mission to the United Nations.

More information about North Korea is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

Department of State North Korea Country Page
CIA World Factbook North Korea Page
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Office of Foreign Assets Control Sanctions Page
Library of Congress Country Studies
Travel Information