PYONGYANG – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump have signaled their affection for each other so regularly it might be easy to miss rising fears that the head-spinning diplomatic engagement of the past two years is falling apart.
Pyongyang has issued increasingly dire warnings to Washington to mind a year-end deadline to offer some new initiative to settle the nations' decades-long nuclear standoff.
Failure could mean a return to the barrage of powerful North Korean weapons tests that marked 2017 as one of the most fraught years in a relationship that has often been defined by bloodshed, deep mistrust and regular threats.
As the deadline approaches, and as the North's propaganda machine cranks up its warnings, here's a look at how high-stakes diplomatic wrangling in one of the most dangerous corners of the world might play out:
THE DEADLINE: HOW SERIOUS IS IT?
North Korea has previously issued deadlines it doesn't follow through on as a way to try to get what it wants in negotiations.
But despite the usual skepticism, there are signs that Pyongyang means business this time.