SEOUL • North Korea will immediately suspend nuclear and missile tests and scrap its nuclear test site and instead pursue economic growth and peace, the North's state media said, ahead of planned summits with South Korea and the United States.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country no longer needed to conduct nuclear tests or intercontinental ballistic missile tests because it had completed its goal of developing the weapons, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said yesterday. "The northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK will be dismantled to transparently guarantee the discontinuance of the nuclear test," KCNA said after Mr Kim convened a plenary session of the Central Committee of the ruling Worker's Party on Friday. The North's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
It was the first time Mr Kim, 34, directly addressed his position on North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes ahead of planned summits with South Korean President Moon Jae In next week and with US President Donald Trump in late May or early June. It was also the second time in two days that he made what appeared to be a significant concession to the US, but in reality cemented the status quo.
North Korea had already stopped testing its weapons. Mr Kim, who has staked his security on his nuclear arsenal and spent years celebrating such weapons as an integral part of his regime's legitimacy and power, made no mention in his latest remarks of dismantling the nuclear weapons and long-range missiles North Korea has already built. On the contrary, he suggested he was going to keep them.
A testing freeze and commitment to close the test site alone would fall short of Washington's demand that Pyongyang completely dismantle all of its nuclear weapons. But announcing the concessions now, rather than during summit meetings, shows Mr Kim is serious about denuclearisation talks, experts said.
"We're all looking for evidence that Kim is really serious about negotiations, and announcements like this certainly suggest he is, and that he is trying to make clear to the world that he is," said Dr David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Reactions from key players
This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress!
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP said on Twitter.
North Korea's decision is meaningful progress for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, which the world wishes for.
SOUTH KOREA'S PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE, in a statement.
MUST BE VERIFIABLE
What's important is that this leads to complete, verifiable denuclearisation.
I want to emphasise this.
JAPANESE PREMIER SHINZO ABE, speaking to reporters
MAKING SITUATION BETTER
The Chinese side believes that North Korea's decision will help ameliorate the situation on the peninsula.
CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN LU KANG, in a statement.
The Pyunggye-ri site is North Korea's only known nuclear test site, where all of its six underground tests were conducted, including the last and largest in September.
Mr Trump welcomed Mr Kim's statement. "This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit," Mr Trump said on Twitter.
South Korea said the North's decision signified "meaningful" progress towards denuclearisation of the peninsula and would create favourable conditions for successful meetings with it and the US.
China and Russia, North Korea's main allies, welcomed the announcement.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also welcomed the North Korean statement but said it must lead to action. Australia and Britain were likewise cautious.
Dr Koh Yu Hwan, professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said he did not believe Pyongyang was ready to give up its nuclear weapons.
"Kim is just saying that now that the nuclear development is complete, he will put all the efforts towards building an economy."
Kim Jong Un's overtures
Since the start of the year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been ringing the bell of peace rather than rattling the sabre as he has often done. Here's a look at his overtures towards the South and long-time arch-foe, the United States.
• Jan 1: Mr Kim says in New Year speech he is open to sending a delegation to the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Seoul responds with an offer of a high-level dialogue.
• Jan 9: Top officials from both Koreas hold their first official dialogue in over two years.
• Feb 9: The two Koreas march together under a pro-unification flag at the opening ceremony of the Winter Games, witnessed by Mr Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong, and South Korean President Moon Jae In. Ms Kim invites Mr Moon to visit Pyongyang.
• March 5-6: Mr Moon sends five envoys on a two-day trip to Pyongyang that includes a four-hour dinner with Mr Kim. The young leader expresses "willingness to engage in candid talks with the US to discuss denuclearisation and normalising ties". The envoys later visit the White House to brief US President Donald Trump.
• March 26-27: Mr Kim makes a surprise two-day visit to Beijing - North Korea's top ally - during which he meets President Xi Jinping, in his first known trip abroad since taking power in 2011.
• April 1: CIA director Mike Pompeo meets Mr Kim in Pyongyang. Mr Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju are among the hundreds who watch South Korean K-pop singers perform in the North for the first time in more than a decade. He is the first leader of the North to attend a K-pop concert.
• April 19: North Korea has dropped its demand that US troops be removed from the South as a condition for giving up its nuclear weapons, Mr Moon says.
• April 21: Mr Kim is reported by state media as saying the North will immediately suspend nuclear and missile tests, and scrap its nuclear test site.