April 30, 2018 10:02
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised President Moon Jae-in on Friday to shut down a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri next month and invite international inspectors to watch, Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Yoon Young-chan said Sunday.
Kim said during the inter-Korean summit that he will "carry out the closure of the northern nuclear test site in May" and invite South Korean and U.S. experts and journalists to make the closure transparent, Yoon told reporters.
Just a few days ahead of the inter-Korean summit, North Korea pledged to halt nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches and close down the underground test site in Punggye-ri.
Apparently mindful of media reports that the test site is obsolete anyway, Kim said, "Some say that we are terminating facilities that are not functioning, but you will see that we have two more tunnels that are bigger than the existing ones and that they are in good condition," Yoon quoted Kim as saying.
The closure was not on the official agenda, but Kim seemed keen to underscore his willingness to scrap his nuclear weapons.
The North has a bad track record when it comes to making such pledges. Back in 2008, North Korea invited South Korean and U.S. journalists to the Yongbyon nuclear plant to witness the demolition of the cooling towers. In response, the U.S. removed North Korea from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states, but the North soon rebuilt the plant and continued developing nuclear weapons.
The North conducted six nuclear tests in Punggye-ri, the first in 2006 at tunnel No. 1, which apparently collapsed after the test. The second to sixth nuclear tests (2009-2017) were conducted in the second tunnels. Signs of an implosion and about a dozen aftershocks were detected around the tunnel after the sixth nuclear test last year.
Experts have contradicted Kim and said the entire underground layer is at risk of collapsing. The Korea Meteorological Administration last October said the ground in Punggye-ri has subsided up to 3 cm, and any additional nuclear tests could cause it to collapse entirely.
Last Monday there was an earthquake in the area measuring 2.3 on the Richter scale.
When North Korea announced its decision to shut down the test site, it said nuclear development is "complete" and the test site "has completed its mission." In other words, it had nothing to lose by shutting it down.
Cheong Wa Dae also revealed some off-the-record remarks Kim made during the summit. It quoted him as saying, "Although I am inherently resistant toward America, people will see that I am not the kind of person who fires nukes at South Korea, the Pacific or America," he said. "Why would we keep nuclear weapons and live in difficult conditions if we often meet with Americans to build trust and they promise to end the war and not invade us?"
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump said he could meet with Kim in the next few weeks. "Things are going very well" with North Korea, he said, but added, "We're not going to get played."
White House National Security adviser John Bolton said Sunday in an interview with Fox News, "We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003, 2004. And so, we'll want to test North Korea in this first meeting for evidence that they have made that strategic decision."
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