North Korea to hold 'ceremony' for dismantling nuclear test site

Larry Hoffman
May 12, 2018

North Korea is "taking technical measures" to dismantle its nuclear test site, state media said on Saturday, May 12, in the latest dramatic step ahead of a historic summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump next month.

"A ceremony for dismantling the nuclear test ground is now scheduled between May 23 and 25, depending on weather condition", the Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday, adding that all tunnels will be destroyed, all entrances will be sealed, all observation facilities will be removed, and all research and guard personnel will be withdrawn.

"In due consideration of small space of the test ground, journalists from other countries will be confined to those from China, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom and South Korea", said the statement.

Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in affirmed their commitment to the goal of "realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula" at a summit in the Demilitarized Zone that divides their countries last month.

South Korea had no immediate response to the statement. This could satisfy Trump but undermine the alliance between Washington and Seoul. In another sign of improving relations, North Korea this week released three USA citizens who had been imprisoned in the country.

"The North will shut down a nuclear test site in the country's northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear test".

The North also said for the first time at the meeting that it had been conducting "subcritical" nuclear tests.

Tensions had been mounting for years as Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes saw it subjected to multiple rounds of increasingly strict sanctions by the UN Security Council, the US, EU, South Korea and others, and Trump last year threatened the North with "fire and fury". These refer to experiments involving a subcritical mass of nuclear materials that allow scientists to examine the performance and safety of weapons without triggering a nuclear chain reaction and explosion.

But sceptics warn that Pyongyang has yet to make any public commitment to give up its arsenal, which includes missiles capable of reaching the United States.

North Korea has invited the outside world to witness the dismantling of its nuclear facilities before. For instance, Kim's father Kim Jong Il invited foreign journalists to watch the destruction of a cooling tower at the Yongbyon reactor, where the North produced plutonium, in the summer of 2008. South Korea, which has played the role of mediator to set up the meeting, has said Kim has genuine interest in relinquishing his nuclear weapons in return for economic benefits.

The North went on to conduct its second nuclear test in May 2009.

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