North Korea promises public shutdown of key nuclear test site

North Korean Kim Jong Un has invited experts and journalists to witness the dismantling of a nuclear test site, following the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade.
Commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility, which 38 North says indicates an apparent resumption of activity in North Korea, is seen in this image from April 25 released, on May 3, 2017.
Commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility, which 38 North says indicates an apparent resumption of activity in North Korea, is seen in this image from April 25 released, on May 3, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Global experts and media will be allowed to watch event; Kim denies site had collapsed

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to shut down its main nuclear test site with international experts and media watching next month, ahead of a planned summit with United States President Donald Trump.

Mr Kim made the promise to show his "determination" towards complete denuclearisation during landmark talks last Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae In, who welcomed it, South Korea's presidential Blue House said yesterday.

Mr Kim also dismissed speculation that the Punggye-ri site had collapsed after six nuclear tests in a dozen years, which some experts believed was what drove the regime back to the negotiating table.

"Some claim we are closing down an unusable test site, but if they come and see, they will understand that there are two other larger tunnels... (that) are in a very good condition," he was cited as saying in a Blue House statement.

Adding to the upbeat sentiment, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he saw a "real opportunity" for progress after his "extensive conversation" with Mr Kim in Pyongyang last month. They spoke a lot about what complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear arsenal might look like, he told ABC in an interview aired yesterday.

"We have an obligation to engage in diplomatic discourse to try and find a peaceful solution so that Americans aren't held at risk by Kim Jong Un and his nuclear arsenal," Mr Pompeo said.

But given North Korea's history of reneging on promises, he said the US has its "eyes wide open" and will insist on concrete action.

 

President Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton, in a separate interview on Fox News yesterday, also said the US will not ease sanctions or offer concessions before Pyongyang fully commits to denuclearisation.

Perhaps in a bid to assuage US concern, Mr Kim told Mr Moon he will invite US and South Korean experts and media to the closure of the nuclear test site to ensure a "transparent reveal" to the world.

His decision is a "demonstration of his determination to actively and pre-emptively deal with the expected denuclearisation verification process", the Blue House said, adding that details will be discussed later.

Mr Kim also sought to assure the US that his nuclear pursuit has ended. "The United States, though inherently hostile to North Korea, will get to know, once our talks begin, that I am not the kind of person who will use nuclear weapons against the South or the United States across the Pacific," he said.

"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." 

The US is cautiously optimistic about the North's recent overtures that culminated in the Moon-Kim talks on Friday - the third in history since the two Koreas were divided by war in the early 1950s.

Analysts said Mr Kim is now turning his charm offensive on the US, so as to gain leverage ahead of talks with Mr Trump. Dr Park Jee Kwang of the Sejong Institute think-tank called the nuclear test site shutdown a "really good political gesture". But he noted that Mr Kim stopped short of destroying the site, leaving room to reopen it later.

Saying that North Korea is employing the salami strategy of maximising benefits with every slice, he added: "They won't give up everything at once. They will take it step by step, and for every step, they will want to get concessions from South Korea or the US."

 

Correction note: An earlier version of this story stated that Mr Kim made the promise to show his "determination" towards complete nuclearisation. It should be denuclearisation. We are sorry for the error. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2018, with the headline 'N. Korea promises public shutdown of key nuclear test site'. Print Edition | Subscribe