North Korea likely to pursue talks, South says in rosy New Year forecast

SEOUL, Dec 26 (Reuters) - South Korea predicted on Tuesday that North Korea would look to open negotiations with the United States next year in an optimistic outlook for 2018, even as Seoul set up a specialized military team to confront nuclear threats from the North.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed new, tougher sanctions on reclusive North Korea on Friday for its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, a move the North branded an economic blockade and act of war.

"North Korea will seek negotiation with United States, while continuing to pursue its effort to be recognized as a de facto nuclear-possessing country," South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a report, without offering any reasons for its conclusion.

RELATED: Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea

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Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea
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Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea

NEW YEARS DAY MISSILE LAUNCH

On January 1, 2017, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un warned that an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was in the 'final stages' of development.

The nation said it could conduct a missile test-launch 'anytime and anywhere'.

On February 12, North Korea tested a ballistic missile, but it didn't appear to be an ICBM due to its flight range.

NUCLEAR CRISIS AT MAR-A-LAGO

President Trump was at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago having dinner with Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe when news broke that North Korea had launched a ballistic missile on February 12.

The president sparked controversy by reportedly discussing the event in front of Mar-a-Lago diners while continuing his meal with the Japanese leader and other guests. 

'MERCILESS' STRIKES

On March 5, North Korea sent an inflammatory message to the U.S. by firing four ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan.

The U.S. deployed an anti-missile system in South Korea the following day.

In response, North Korea warned of 'merciless' strikes against the U.S.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said military action against Pyongyang was 'on the table' and Trump tweeted that the nation is 'behaving very badly.'

COVERT PHOTO OF TILLERSON

During a visit to North Korea's border on March 17, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was unwittingly photographed by a North Korean soldier, who can be seen peering into the room on the right side of the image.

The next day, Rex Tillerson said the threat of North Korea is 'imminent.'

BOLD MISSILE STRIKE

North Korea tested another ballistic missile shortly before President Trump's planned meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 5.

Rex Tillerson responded by saying the U.S. 'has spoken enough.' Trump later said the nation 'is looking for trouble.'

The U.S. military warned it was 'prepared to launch a preemptive strike' against North Korea if there were signs the country was planning to test a nuclear weapon.

POLL SHOWS US CONCERNS

A poll conducted by CBS News in April showed that more than half of Americans said they were 'uneasy' about President Trump's ability to deal with North Korea.

FAILED MISSILE TEST

North Korea celebrated the 105th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth, North Korea's founder, by unveiling powerful new missiles in April.

The next day, a North Korean missile 'blew up' just a few hours before Vice President Mike Pence arrived in South Korea for a diplomatic trip.

TENSE BACK-AND-FORTH

On April 27, North Korea released a video showing a simulation of a White House attack. 

President Trump responded by saying a 'major, major conflict' with North Korea was 'absolutely' possible.

The next day, Pyongyang unsuccessfully test-fired another ballistic missile in an act of bold defiance against international pressure to curb its nuclear program.

'PRETTY SMART COOKIE'

President Trump called North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un 'a pretty smart cookie' in an interview that went viral on April 30.

'At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie,' Trump told CBS News.

The president also said he'd be 'honored' to meet with the North Korean leader.

KIM JONG UN'S LETTER TO CONGRESS

In early May, North Korea said it would continue its nuclear weapons tests and boost force 'to the maximum' in a stark warning to the U.S.

Pyongyang also condemned President Trump for directing the peninsula to the 'brink of nuclear war.'

Soon after, North Korea sent a rare letter to the U.S. House of Representatives to protest tougher sanctions on the nation.

TRUMP GETS HEAT AT HOME

In Washington, Trump was met with criticism from several lawmakers over his handling of North Korea.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounded off on the issue, saying Trump 'can't meet with Kim Jong Un' as he'd discussed.

MISSILE TEST CONFIRMS ADVANCEMENT

On May 13, North Korea carried out another ballistic missile test-launch, which landed in the sea near Russia.

Pyongyang said the launch was aimed at confirming the country could carry large nuclear warheads, signaling an advancement in their development.

'MADMAN' LEAK

In late May, a transcript of a phone call between President Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was leaked to the public.

The transcript showed President Trump call North Korea's leader a 'madman with nuclear weapons' who could not be let on the loose.

'BIGGER GIFT PACKAGE' FOR US

As tensions continued to ramp up in May, North Korea launched another ballistic missile test and warned the U.S. of a 'bigger gift package' in the future.

The U.S. responded by issuing new sanctions on Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, experts cautioned that the U.S. 'may not be able to stop' the threat of North Korean nuclear missiles.

US PREPARES FOR NUCLEAR THREAT

Several states began to carry out nuclear attack drills to prepare for potential threats.

New York City set up a triage simulation at MetLife Stadium and Hawaii's government called for school evacuation drills.

DENNIS RODMAN VISITS PYONGYANG

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea in June.

'I'm just trying to open the door,' he told reporters. 'My purpose is to actually to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea, so that's the main thing.'

OTTO WARMBIER

Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student from suburban Cincinnati, was released from North Korean custody on June 13.

Warmbier had been imprisoned in North Korea since early 2016 after he was accused of trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel while visiting the country as a tourist.

After the announcement of his release, Warmbier was photographed comatose and being carried off a plane with a tube in his nose. It was discovered that he had been in a coma for the past year.

North Korean officials said he got botulism and was given a sleeping pill, but never woke up.

Warmbier's father said his son suffered a serious neurological injury was 'brutalized.'

Otto Warmbier died on June 19 from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain, according to a U.S. coroner.

TRADING INSULTS

President Trump tweeted in June that diplomacy 'has not worked out' with North Korea, suggesting a potential change in policy.

Pyongyang called Trump a 'psychopath' two days later.

SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH OF ICBM

On July 4, North Korea successfully test-launched an ICBM for the first time ever. The missile flew a trajectory that could hit Alaska.

President Trump responded via Twitter: 'North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?...'

The president later vowed to 'confront very strongly' the issue of North Korea's 'very, very bad behavior.'

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said North Korea's actions were 'quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution' and that the United States was prepared to use force 'if we must.'

'PILE OF ASH'

In a bold statement, North Korea threatened to turn the U.S. into a 'pile of ash' on July 12.

US THREATENED WITH 'MERCILESS BLOW'

On July 27, a North Korean spokesperson said, 'Should the U.S. dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the U.S. with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time.'

The following day, North Korea fired a missile in an unusual late-night test-launch.

MISSILE LAUNCH BROKE RECORD

The Pentagon reported that North Korea's latest ICBM launch on July 28 was the longest test in their history.

The U.S. responded by successfully test-launching an ICBM  from California.

The U.S. also issued a ban on American passport holders traveling to North Korea that took effect on September 1.

TRUMP WARNS OF 'FIRE AND FURY'

In early August, President Trump warned that North Korea would be met with 'fire and fury' if it continued to threaten the United States.

In response, North Korea said it was considering a missile strike on the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

POLL SHOWS US VIEW OF THREAT

A CNN poll in August showed that most Americans saw North Korea as a 'very serious threat' at that point.

US TOLD TO 'ACT PROPERLY'

President Trump said the U.S. military was 'locked and loaded' in a series of new threats against Pyongyang.

North Korea responded by saying, 'If the Trump administration does not want the American empire to meet its tragic doom..., they had better talk and act properly.'

MISSILE FLIES NEAR JAPAN

On August 29, North Korea fired a missile over Japan that landed in waters near the country, marking a major escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

After the missile launch, President Trump said 'all options are on the table.'

'ASHES AND DARKNESS'

After Pyongyang conducted its biggest missile test to date on August 29, one of its top diplomats said it was ready to send 'more gift packages' to the United States.

North Korea later threatened to 'sink' Japan and reduce the United States to 'ashes and darkness.'

On September 15, North Korea carried out another missile test-launch.

'ROCKET MAN'

President Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 'rocket man' twice, first during an address before the U.N. General Assembly in September and again on Twitter:

'I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!'

Trump claimed the nickname was meant to be a compliment.

'DOTARD'

Kim Jong Un called President Trump 'mentally deranged' and said he would 'totally destroy' the U.S. after he was dubbed 'rocket man' in a U.N. speech.

The North Korean leader also slammed President Trump as 'a frightened dog,' a 'dotard' and  'gangster fond of playing with fire' in a statement released on September 22.

TRUMP VISITS ASIA

President Trump brought up North Korea during a trip to Japan in November, saying 'no dictator' should underestimate the U.S.

Trump's planned visit to the DMZ was canceled due to weather.

TRUMP CALLED 'OLD' BY KIM JONG UN

On November 11, President Trump posted a tweet:

'Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!'

NOVEMBER MISSILE LAUNCH

North Korea fired what is believed to be an ICBM on November 28 that landed near Japan.

Trump responded by saying, 'It is a situation that we will handle.'

A North Korean official said the U.S. was 'begging for nuclear war' and participating in an 'extremely dangerous nuclear gamble.'

MORE ON NORTH KOREA

1. Kim Jong Un just had another baby

2. Meet North Korea's secret 'princess'

3. South Korea to create a 'decapitation unit' for Kim Jong Un

4. Kim Jong Un's half-brother murdered in attack at Malaysian airport

5. Study shows most Americans can't identify North Korea on a map

On December 20, it was reported that North Korea is testing whether its ICBM weapons are capable of carrying anthrax.
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The Ministry of Defence said it would assign four units to operate under a new official overseeing North Korea policy, aimed to "deter and respond to North Korea's nuclear and missile threat."

Tensions have risen over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which it pursues in defiance of years of U.N. Security Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric coming from both Pyongyang and the White House.

U.S. diplomats have made clear they are seeking a diplomatic solution but President Donald Trump has derided talks as useless and said Pyongyang must commit to giving up its nuclear weapons before any talks can begin.

In a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea said the United States was terrified by its nuclear force and was getting "more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country."

China, the North's lone major ally, and Russia both supported the latest U.N. sanctions, which seek to limit the North's access to refined petroleum products and crude oil and its earnings from workers abroad, while on Monday Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called for all countries to ease tension.

On Tuesday, Beijing released customs data indicating China exported no oil products to North Korea in November, apparently going over and beyond U.N. sanctions.

China, the main source of North Korea's fuel, did not export any gasoline, jet fuel, diesel or fuel oil to its neighbor last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

China also imported no iron ore, coal or lead from North Korea in November.

In its 2018 forecast, South Korea's Unification Ministry said it believed the North would eventually find ways to blunt the effects of the sanctions.

"Countermeasures will be orchestrated to deal with the effects, including cuts in trade volume and foreign currency inflow, lack of supplies, and reduced production in each part of the economy," the report said.

The latest round of sanctions was prompted by the Nov. 29 test of what North Korea said was an intercontinental ballistic missile that put the U.S. mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.

The Joongang Ilbo Daily newspaper, citing an unnamed South Korean government official, reported on Tuesday that North Korea could also be preparing to launch a satellite into space.

Experts have said such launches are likely aimed at further developing the North's ballistic missile technology, and as such would be prohibited under U.N. resolutions.

The North Korean Rodong Sinmun newspaper said on Monday saying that "peaceful space development is a legitimate right of a sovereign state."

North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the United States and Japan, and says its weapons are necessary to counter U.S. aggression.

The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, and regularly carries out military exercises with the South, which the North sees as preparations for invasion. (Additional reporting by Muyu Xu and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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