The United States has formal diplomatic relations with most nations, including the majority of UN member states. As of 2019, the US does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, Bhutan, Syria, and Iran.
While the US does have relations with Kosovo and the Holy See, they do not recognize Palestine or Western Sahara as countries, and therefore have no relations with either state. The US also does not recognize the Republic of China as a sovereign nation, but do maintain informal relations with the “people on Taiwan”.
Further breakdown of the countries with no diplomatic relations with the US below.
Countries With No Diplomatic Relations With the US
Hostility between the United States and North Korea dates back to the Korean War, and developed largely as a result of Cold War politics. More recently, tensions have centered around North Korea and their nuclear capabilities, even leading President George W. Bush to label the nation part of his “Axis of Evil”.
While no formal diplomatic relations between the United States and North Korea exist, the two countries have recently engaged in some informal diplomacy, beginning with the first Trump-Kim Summit in 2018. According to the US State Department:
“The United States supports the peaceful reunification of Korea on terms acceptable to the Korean people and recognizes that the future of the Korean Peninsula is primarily a matter for them to decide.”
Further reading: Where Is North Korea?
The small, landlocked nation of Bhutan became a member of the United Nations in 1971, and today shares formal diplomatic relations with 52 states and the European Union. Bhutan does not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States, however, nor any other member of the UN Security Council.
Despite the lack of formality, the two countries do share a warm informal relationship. These relations are maintained through the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, and Bhutan’s Mission to the United Nations in New York. The two nations also belong to a handful of the same international organizations, like the IMF and World Bank.
Syria and the United States established diplomatic relations in 1944, though they would be severed from 1967-1974 in the wake of the Arab-Israeli War. Today, the relationship between the two countries is once again strained due to conflict.
The Syrian Arab Republic cut ties with the United States in 2012 at the start of the ongoing Syrian Civil War. This was retaliation for American support of Syrian rebels–but their problems go beyond just the war. The two sides have also found themselves at odds over issues like the Arab–Israeli conflict, the Golan Heights annexation, and the Iraq War.
Further reading: Where Is Syria?
The United States and the Kingdom of Persia established formal diplomatic relations in 1883, and the two nations enjoyed an amicable, even friendly, relationship for much of the 20th century. This would change following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which ousted the pro-American Shah, and replaced him with the anti-American Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
On April 7, 1980, US President Jimmy Carter cut ties with Iran amid the Iran Hostage Crisis, and diplomatic relations between the two countries have been frozen ever since. In 1995, the US placed a trade embargo on Iran. These sanctions were lifted in 2016 after warming relations and a new nuclear deal. However, these sanctions have since been re-imposed by the Trump administration in 2018.
Further reading: What Is Iran?
Other Interesting Cases
Palestine is a non-member observer state of the United Nations. However, the United States does not recognize the State of Palestine, and therefore, the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations.
In the past, the US has maintained a relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which it has previously recognized as the primary representative of the Palestinian people since 1970. These relations were terminated following President Donald Trump’s closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington D.C. on September 10, 2018.
Further reading: Is Palestine a Country?
As of 2019, 100 out of 193 United Nations member states recognise the Republic of Kosovo, including the United States. In fact, the US was integral in Kosovo’s quest for international acceptance; Kosovo declared their independence on February 17, 2008, and the US recognized them as a country the very next day.
Kosovo and the United States continue to have a friendly relationship today. There are even places in Kosovo named for American leaders.
The Republic of China (Taiwan)
The Republic of China (ROC), often known simply as “Taiwan”, is recognized by 16 out of the 193 UN member states, as well as the Holy See. These diplomatic relations constitute a recognition of the ROC as the true representative of all of China, but not necessarily an international acceptance of Taiwan as a state.
In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the only lawful representatives of mainland China. The PRC effectively replaced the ROC in the UN, including taking the ROC’s spot on the UN Security Council.
The United States had recognized the Nationalist Government (ROC) as the legitimate government of mainland China throughout the Chinese Civil War, even after the ROC’s jurisdiction was limited to Taiwan. Things would change in 1979, however, when the United States shifted its recognition to the PRC in accordance with the One China policy.
The US continued to provide Taiwan with military aid in the years that followed, though, and today Taiwan is considered a strong Asian ally and supporter of the United States. The two countries share a friendly unofficial relationship.
Ruther reading: Is Taiwan a Country?
Vatican City (Holy See)
The United States maintained diplomatic relations with the Papal States from 1797-1867, though amid rising anti-Catholic sentiment, Congress would eventually defund all diplomatic envoys to the Holy See.
The United States and the Holy See did not have diplomatic relations from 1867-1984, and overtime the Vatican would come to be seen by many as un-American. This mindset would shift by the mid-20th century, when presidents began to send personal envoys to meet with the Pope.
The two sides finally announced the establishment of diplomatic relations on January 10, 1984.
Further reading: Is Vatican City a Country?
Western Sahara is generally not considered a sovereign country (see: Is Western Sahara a Country?). As such, the United States does not have diplomatic relations with the disputed territory.