SEOUL • North Korea has scheduled the dismantlement of its nuclear test site for some time between May 23 and 25, depending on weather conditions in order to uphold its previous pledge to discontinue nuclear tests, state media reported yesterday.
This came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged on Friday that North Korea can look forward to "a future brimming with peace and prosperity", if it agrees to quickly give up its nuclear weapons.
His comments came ahead of next month's historic summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Yesterday, the official KCNA news agency said, citing a foreign ministry press release, that the dismantlement of the nuclear test ground would involve collapsing all of its tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances and removing all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts.
Journalists from other countries, including the US and South Korea, will be invited to cover the event, to "show in a transparent manner the dismantlement of the northern nuclear test ground to be carried out".
North Korea's six known nuclear tests have taken place in Punggye-ri, a location in the north-eastern part of North Korea where a system of tunnels have been dug under Mount Mantap.
PEACE AND PROSPERITY
If Chairman Kim chooses the right path, there is a future brimming with peace and prosperity for the North Korean people.
US SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO
Experts have said the pledge to dismantle the test site is a big step forward but verifying it will be difficult.
Mr Pompeo told a news conference on Friday after talks with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha in Washington: "If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearise, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends."
"If Chairman Kim chooses the right path, there is a future brimming with peace and prosperity for the North Korean people," he said, adding that the US had a track record of support for the Korean people that was "second to none".
Mr Pompeo, who returned from Pyongyang last Thursday with three Americans who had been held prisoner by North Korea, said the release of the men had helped set conditions for a successful meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Kim in Singapore on June 12.
However, his comments made clear that the two sides remained far apart on the key issue of what they mean by denuclearisation.
Mr Pompeo said he had "good, substantive" conversations with Mr Kim in Pyongyang in what was his second meeting with the North Korean leader in less than six weeks, and believed both sides understood the ultimate goal of the summit.
"We had good conversations, substantive conversations. Conversations that involved deep complex problems, challenges; the strategic decision that Chairman Kim has before him about how it is he wishes to proceed and if he is prepared, in exchange for the assurances we are ready to provide to him, if he is prepared to fully denuclearise."
Mr Pompeo said the US aim was clear - "to ensure that North Korean doesn't possess the capacity to threaten, not only the United States but also the world, with nuclear weapons".
He said: "We had good conversations about the histories of our two nations. We talked about the fact that America has often in history had adversaries who we are now close partners with and our hope that we can achieve the same with respect to North Korea."
Mr Pompeo said the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula would require a robust verification" programme by the US and other countries.
Mr Trump's national security team has urged a faster approach towards denuclearisation, with a timetable as quick as six months to a year, and economic benefits coming only at the end.
But North Korea seeks a gradual, action-for-action process in which it is rewarded for each move it takes towards denuclearisation.
Mr Kim's trip to the Chinese city of Dalian last week is believed to be aimed at securing Chinese President Xi Jinping's support for his phased approach to nuclear disarmament.
Speaking in Washington, the South Korean foreign minister stressed that sanctions against Pyongyang would not be lifted until it had taken concrete steps to denuclearise.
She promised "air-tight" coordination with the US.
She also took pains to "emphasise again that the US military presence in Korea is a matter for the ROK-US alliance first and foremost".
South Korea's President Moon Jae In and Mr Trump are due to meet on May 22 at the White House for the next round of planning.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES
Correction note: The original headline of this story said N. Korea set to dismantle nuclear weapons by May 25. It should be N. Korea set to dismantle nuclear site by May 25. We are sorry for the error.