Asia

North Korea crisis in 300 words

Image from North Korean media of four missile launches on 7 March 2017 Image copyright Reuters

The North Korean stand-off is a crisis that, at worst, threatens nuclear war. The sudden prospect of direct talks with the US might mean there's a chance at peace, but it's complicated. Let's take a step back.

Why does North Korea want nuclear weapons?

The Korean peninsula was divided after World War Two and the communist North developed into a Stalinesque authoritarian system.

Isolated on the global stage, it says nuclear weapons are its only deterrent against an outside world seeking to destroy it.

Could they carry out a nuclear attack?

Probably, but likely won't.

North Korea has carried out six nuclear tests. One, it says, was a hydrogen bomb.

It claims, though this remains unverified, to have developed a nuclear bomb small enough to be carried by a long-range missile.

It has also has a ballistic missile that experts believe could reach the US, Pyongyang's main adversary.

In response the UN, the US, the EU and have implemented increasingly tough sanctions.

Why can't Kim just be removed?

The North has missiles aimed at the South and Japan. A pre-emptive strike against Pyongyang could trigger devastating retaliation. It would also kill countless North Koreans.

As the biggest Asian power, China is concerned about regime collapse, and that a unified Korea would bring US forces currently stationed in the South directly to its border.

An unprecedented turnaround?

Previous attempts to negotiate aid-for-disarmament deals have failed.

But in January, the North embarked on direct talks with Seoul, attended the Winter Olympics in South Korea and in April the two leaders met for a historic inter-Korean summit.

Pyongyang also offered direct talks with the US - an offer Mr Trump accepted - and ordered a halt to nuclear and missile tests. The unprecedented meeting is due to take place in Singapore on 12 June.

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