As Donald Trump prepared to take office, his predecessor Barack Obama warned that North Korea would be the greatest challenge of his US presidency.

But rather than proceed with caution, Trump responded to a series of intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests with bellicose rhetoric, warning North Korea's threats would "be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen".

When [Kim Jong-un] talks about denuclearisation, it’s very different from our definition of denuclearisation. The North Koreans, in the past, have talked about denuclearisation as denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, or when the US security threat is removed from the Peninsula. 

Jung Pak, senior fellow, The Brookings Institution

By the end of 2017, US fears of a conflict with North Korea that might escalate into a nuclear war had never been higher.

Then in March, the White House surprised everyone, by announcing out of nowhere that Trump would hold face-to-face talks with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un.

The high-stakes summit is slated to take place in May or June, but the outcome remains hard to predict.

North Korea's isolation makes it difficult to read. And over the past year, the Trump administration's messaging towards North Korea has been as inconsistent as it has been provocative.

"When it came around, nobody thought that this was going to be the form that diplomacy was going to take. We thought you might have a special representative go and meet - maybe the secretary of state would go and meet," said Jon Wolfsthal, director of the Nuclear Crisis Group.

"You generally don't see the president putting himself out there on the line, and the reputation of the United States on the line so quickly and easily. But this is Donald Trump's style."

Over the course of three eventful months, Fault Lines spoke with a range of Washington insiders in an effort to understand Trump's North Korea strategy. They include former US government officials, policymakers and intelligence analysts, who combined have spent more than 100 years working on North Korea.

The result is a portrait of an impulsive brand of leadership in which personality confounds policy, with far-reaching consequences for North Korea, the United States and its allies in East Asia.

Source: Al Jazeera