North Korea has said it will close its nuclear test site in May. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told his counterpart in Seoul that experts from the US and South Korea would be invited to witness the closure and dismantling of the Punggyi-ri site in the country’s northeast, a spokesman said on Sunday.
Seismologists said the country’s main testing facility may have partly collapsed during a series of aftershocks following the last test at Punggyi-ri in mid-September.
But Kim reportedly said on Friday that two other tunnels still remained in good condition.
The news comes as US President Donald Trump presses for full denuclearization ahead of his summit with Kim Jong-un, which now looks likely to be held in late May.
Trump said on Saturday the summit “would likely to held in the next three or four weeks”, although exactly where he will meet the North Korean leader has yet to be revealed.
On Friday, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula in the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade, but the declaration did not include concrete steps to reach that goal, Reuters said.
North Korea’s state media had said before the summit that Pyongyang would immediately suspend nuclear and missile tests, scrap its nuclear test site and instead pursue economic growth and peace.
Kim told Moon he would soon invite experts and journalists to show the dismantling of the facilities “to the international community”, the Blue House in Seoul, where the South Korean leader resides, said.
“The United States, though inherently hostile to North Korea, will get to know once our talk begins that I am not the kind of person who will use nuclear weapons against the South or the United States across the Pacific,” Moon’s press secretary Yoon Young-chan quoted Kim as saying.
“There is no reason for us to possess nuclear weapons while suffering difficulties if mutual trust with the United States is built through frequent meetings from now on, and an end to the war and non-aggression are promised.”
Kim said there were two additional, larger tunnels that remain “in a very good condition” at the Punggye-ri test site beyond the existing one, which experts believed had collapsed after repeated explosions, rendering much of the site useless.
Kim’s promise shows his willingness to “preemptively and actively” respond to inspection efforts to be made as part of the denuclearization process, Yoon said.
Kim Jong Un was also ready for dialogue with Japan at “any time”, Seoul’s presidential office said on Sunday.
‘Better than 2008’
The North invited foreign observers and journalists to its main Yongbyon atomic complex in 2008, when it destroyed an aged cooling tower – with the dramatic explosion televised globally within hours.
That event did not slow the North’s nuclear drive, but the situation looks more upbeat this time, Hong Min, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, told AFP.
“There’s a vast difference between blowing up a cooling tower and dismantling your only and, if what Kim said was right, functioning nuclear test site,” he said, adding Kim was “giving away in advance one of the major chips he could have saved for the actual meeting with Trump”.
“Given this is only a conciliatory move in the build-up to the summit, I think the meeting is likely to produce something more concrete,” he said.
Pyongyang has demanded as-yet-unspecified security guarantees to discuss its arsenal, but Kim could use the meeting to agree on “the range of nuclear weapons and facilities to be dismantled and specific time frame to do so”, said Hong.
– with reporting from Reuters, AFP