North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is rushing to develop nuclear missiles that can reach the United States, saying they are needed to deter an attack on his country.
If there are ever any talks with the Trump administration to defuse an increasingly dangerous crisis, here are five of Kim's demands — though he shouldn't count on getting them all met.
Guarantees of no overthrow by U.S.
Before President Trump unleashed his incendiary attacks on Kim this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration does not favor a regime change and seeks a diplomatic solution to halt the North's weapons program.
Kim looks at states like Iraq, where former dictator Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the United States, and believes that the only way for his country to ensure that his regime remains in power is through nuclear ambitions.
Developing nuclear weapons that threaten the United States is Kim's insurance policy against being overthrown by a U.S.-led coalition, Joo Seong-ha, a defector who was imprisoned in North Korea before escaping to South Korea, told USA TODAY.
A nuclear weapons program is “the most powerful bargaining chip that North Korea has,” said Joo.
Keep nuclear weapons
The Washington Post, citing a confidential Defense Intelligence Agency report, said this week that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles. The warhead breakthrough is considered a crucial advancement on the path to producing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the U.S. mainland, experts said.
In addition to its nuclear arsenal, the nation has rockets and artillery aimed at Seoul, the South Korean capital that is only 35 miles from the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries. North Korea has launched more than a dozen test missiles this year.
North Korea has said many times it has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons. The U.S. has not accepted the North as a nuclear power but it might have to accept that reality in light of Kim's rapid technological advances and stockpile of nuclear armaments.
Since North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006, the United Nations has imposed ever-tightening sanctions on the rogue regime to force it to halt its weapons programs.
The latest sanctions, approved unanimously by the United Nations Security Council on Aug. 5, ban North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood, which are worth about $1 billion or a third of the country's foreign revenue. North Korea accused the U.S. of "trying to drive the situation of the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war" after the latest sanctions were adopted.
Kim has managed to modernize his nation and improve its economy despite nine years of sanctions, but would like relief to make faster progress. That won't happen without major concessions, such as freezing his weapons programs in place and abandoning more tests.
Remove U.S. troops from South Korea
The border between North Korea and South Korea is one of the most militarized in the world, according to the State Department.
Pyongyang has about 1.2 million military personnel compared with 680,000 troops in South Korea, where 28,000 U.S. troops also are stationed. Nearly 6 million North Koreans are reservists in the worker/peasant guard, compulsory to the age of 60.
China, which has long feared a unified Korea allied with the U.S., also wants the American troops removed. That won't happen unless it is part of a much broader peace deal that includes major concessions by China and North Korea to demilitarize the peninsula.
Negotiate formal end to Korean War
The U.S. and North Korea have no diplomatic ties and are still enemies, having only reached an armistice — not a peace treaty — to end the 1950-1953 Korean War.
The perpetual state of hostility — as well as the brutal dictatorship of three generations of the same family — has left North Korea isolated and impoverished. The Central Intelligence Agency ranks North Korea the 213th poorest country in the world out of the 230 it tracks in its CIA World Factbook.
A formal peace treaty would provide a huge economic and political boost for Kim, but he would have to mothball his nuclear ambitions — and so far, he has shown no sign of wanting to do that.
Contributing: John Bacon, Jim Michaels