North Korea early Friday launched a rocket suspected by South Korea and the West to be a cover for testing its ballistic missile technology.
It was the fourth such launch by North Korea, and South Korea and Western officials are concerned that, if history is any indication, a nuclear test will soon follow. South Korean intelligence says satellite photos show that North Korea is apparently gearing up for a nuclear test, digging a new underground tunnel at the site where it has conducted test blasts before.
The following is a partial timeline of the North Korean nuclear saga:
October 1994: Under a pact with the United States, North Korea agrees to stop building and operating nuclear reactors. In exchange, the U.S. delivers 500,000 tons of fuel oil annually.
August 1998: North Korea launches a rocket that flies over Japan and claims that it sent a satellite into orbit broadcasting revolutionary songs. Western officials say no trace of such a satellite was ever found.
September 1998: Japan freezes food and energy aid to North Korea and withdraws its offer for talks aimed at normalizing relations.
March 2001: President George W. Bush takes a chillier tone on North Korea than his predecessor, Bill Clinton. North Korea calls Bush's policies “hostile.”
October 2002: U.S. officials say North Korea admits it is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
December 2002 - January 2003: North Korea says it is restarting its nuclear reactor, stops International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring cameras and kicks inspectors out of the country. Soon afterward, it says it is withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
April 2003: North Korea claims for the first time to have nuclear weapons.
July - September 2005: The latest round of six-party talks ends with North Korea committing to abandon all nuclear weapons, part of a deal in which it would get nuclear reactors for peaceful use.
November 2005 – April 2006: The United States freezes about $25 million in North Korean funds held by a Macao bank that it accuses of money laundering and circulating counterfeit U.S. currency produced in North Korea. Pyongyang refuses to participate in arms talks for more than a year and resumes its weapons program.
July 2006: North Korea launches another rocket that fails just 40 seconds after liftoff, sending debris into the waters off Japan and Russia. The U.N. Security Council adopts a resolution condemning the missile launches and imposes sanctions. Japan also imposes sanctions and South Korea cuts off food and fertilizer aid.
October 2006: North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test, later saying it was “entirely attributable to the U.S. nuclear threat, sanctions and pressure.”
December 2006: Talks resume.
March – April 2007: The U.S. agrees to return the frozen North Korean funds and urges it to shut down its nuclear reactor. Inspectors verify that it has shut down the reactor months later.
August – September 2008: North Korea says it is suspending disarmament of its nuclear facilities, and again ousts IAEA inspectors, upset over its inclusion on a U.S. list of "terrorism sponsoring" states.
October – December 2008: The U.S. drops North Korea from its terrorism sponsor list when Pyongyang agrees to inspections. The deal founders over disagreements on how they are to be carried out.
April 2009: North Korea launches its third missile, saying it has sent a satellite into orbit. Western officials say it fell into the Pacific. The U.N. Security Council condemns the launch. North Korea says it will resume building nuclear weapons, pulls out of talks and ends inspections.
May 2009: North Korea carries out its second nuclear test.
June 2009: The U.N. Security Council sharply increases its sanctions against North Korea.
November 2010: North Korea reveals it is building a new facility to process uranium.
March 2012: North Korea announces it is planning to launch a satellite.The announced launch threatens a deal with the United States that would yield badly needed food aid.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles