While the North Korean and United States relationship can mostly be described as frosty (the two countries are still technically at war), there have been a couple of instances of high-level diplomacy involving sitting and former US Presidents and the top level of North Korean leadership.
The first visit by a US President was Jimmy Carter back in 1994 and, most recently, by Donald Trump in June 2019. So what has led former and sitting Presidents to visit North Korea? We take a look below.
Jimmy Carter’s First visit in June 1994
Pictured Above: President Kim Il Sung and former US President Jimmy Carter
The first visit of a US President to North Korea was then the former 39th President of the United States Jimmy Carter in June 1994. With relations between North Korea and the United States at an all-time high, Jimmy Carter made a visit to the country on behalf of the Clinton administration to negotiate with President Kim Il Sung over the countries nuclear weapons program.
The trip by Jimmy Carter ultimately led to a de-escalation of tensions in the region and saw the signing of the Agreed Framework deal between the two countries aiming at freezing and replacing North Korea’s indigenous nuclear power plant program with more nuclear proliferation-resistant light water reactor power plants, and the step-by-step normalization of relations between the US and the DPRK.
The deal would break down over the next 10 years, but the first visit by a former US President was significant at the time and set the precedent for future visits of US Presidents to North Korea.
Bill Clinton’s 2009 Trip to North Korea
Pictured above: North Korean Leader General Kim Jong Il and former US President Bill Clinton.
The second President to visit North Korea was Bill Clinton in August 2009. Bill Clinton’s mission to North Korea involved securing the release of two American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who had been imprisoned in the DPRK after illegally entering the country along the Sino-Korean border.
On the morning of August 4th, Bill Clinton touched down at the Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, where he would spend the next 20 hours working to secure the American prisoners’ release.
Bill Clinton met and was photographed with then-North Korean leader General Kim Jong Il. Bill Clinton verbally delivered a message on behalf of US President Barack Obama. KCNA reported that Clinton and General Kim Jong Il had “an exhaustive conversation” that included “a wide-ranging exchange of views on the matters of common concern.” On the morning of August 5th, Kim Jong Il announced a pardon had been issued to the two journalists, and they returned home with Bill Clinton.
Jimmy Carter’s Second Visit to Pyongyang in 2010
Pictured above: Jimmy Carter is received by high-ranking officials on his second visit to the country.
In August 2010, Jimmy Carter once again returned to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission to secure the release of a US National named Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had illegally entered North Korea.
Jimmy Carter was successful in his mission, and Aijalon Mahli Gomes was able to return home with the former President.
2019 Koreas–United States DMZ summit
Pictured above: Donald Trump and Marshal Kim Jong Un meet at the 2019 Koreas-United States DMZ summit.
The only visit to North Korea by a sitting president was by the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, in June 2019 at Koreas- United States DMZ Summit.
The third meeting between Marshal Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump came on the heels of two previous summits that had been held in June 2018 in Singapore and February 2019 in Hanoi that had collapsed.
At 3:45 pm on June 30th Trump crossed the Military Demarcation Line and entered the North, making history by officially becoming the first sitting US President to enter North Korea.
The summit was also attended by South Korean President Moon Jae In. The trio briefly chatted before President Donald Trump, and Marshal Kim Jong Un held a 53-minute private conversation inside the Freedom House on the South Korea side of the DMZ.
Who Will Be the Next US President to visit North Korea?
While there were rumours in early 2020 that Donald Trump was potentially interested in visiting North Korea for another summit, The ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic basically shut down any chance of this happening, with North Korea effectively having sealed its borders since January 22nd, 2020.
Now with a new administration coming into the white house with Joe Biden taking over the reins, it is unclear exactly what his policy on North Korea will be like and if he is open to travelling to North Korea for another USA-DPRK summit.
Of course, it is also possible that a former US President could make a visit to the country if the need arises at some point.