In Depth

North Korea to close nuclear test site

Lofty rhetoric and big promises by Kim Jong Un meet with scepticism in Seoul

North Korea is to close its nuclear testing site and invite foreign experts and journalists to witness its decommissioning before a planned meeting between the country’s leader and US President Donald Trump.

According to South Korea’s presidential office, Kim Jong Un made the comments during his historic meeting with South Korean president Moon Jae-in on Friday.

Both leaders signed a declaration calling for a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula”, following a promise by Kim to halt nuclear and missile tests.

The promise to open up and scale back the north’s secretive nuclear programme “is another significant and symbolic step by Kim Jong-un”, says the BBC’s Korea correspondent Laura Bicker.

Yet the sudden and dramatic thawing of relations between the decades-long enemies has been met with deep scepticism in both Seoul and the US.

“Amid the soaring rhetoric, there was no evidence that Kim was offering to surrender his nuclear stockpile, even as he seeks to ease punishing sanctions that are shackling his country’s economy,” says The Sunday Times.

The paper cites similar pledges of peace and prosperity which were offered at meetings between previous South Korean presidents and Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, in 2000 and 2007, only for Pyongyang to renege on the deals after extracting concessions.

Writing in The New York Times, Nicholas Eberstadt, a founding director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, denounced Kim’s “phony peace ploy” and attacked many of the assumptions behind Trump’s decision to meet Kim.

This has not stopped the US President from hailing the move, and his role in it, personally claiming credit for exerting a policy of “maximum pressure”. It is thought Trump could meet his North Korean counterpart as early as next month.

26 April

North Korea: Kim Jong Un to walk across border for summit with Moon Jae-in

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is due to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a historic summit on Friday to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

At 9.30am Korea Standard Time, Kim will cross the military demarcation line at the border on foot, for the first meeting between leaders from the two countries in more than a decade.

The talks will begin at 10.30am on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom, and are expected to focus on North Korea’s nuclear programme. As New Zealand-based news site Stuff notes, there will also be “plenty of symbolism” as Kim becomes “the first North Korean leader to be in the southern section of the border since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War”.

After a short walk together, South Korean honour guards will escort the two leaders to a welcome ceremony, according to the South’s presidential chief of staff, Im Jong-seok.

Following the first session of talks, Kim and Moon will have lunch separately before holding a tree-planting ceremony in the afternoon, Im added.

Last week, Moon claimed that North Korean officials had dropped a long-held demand that the US withdraw its forces stationed in South Korea in exchange for denuclearisation, ahead of a much-anticipated meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump in May.

Kim added on Saturday that Pyongyang “no longer needs to test its weapons capability”, CNN reports.

Such concessions have been met with cautious optimism. Some experts are warning that denuclearisation is likely to be a major sticking point in talks and that it is “unlikely that Kim will truly consider giving up his weapons” in May, the news site reports.

Chinese scientists claim that North Korea’s main nuclear test site has “collapsed” following five nuclear blasts, and that this may have been the reason for the North’s suspension of its nuclear testing programme last week.

The closure of the mountainside test facility has “likely dealt a huge blow” to the North’s nuclear ambitions, according to Beijing-based political scholar Hu Xingdou.

Experts have also raised concerns over the possibility of the site’s collapse “putting China and other nearby nations at unprecedented risk of radioactive exposure”, the South China Morning Post reports.

23 April

North Korea: border loudspeakers turned off by South

South Korea has turned off a bank of loudspeakers that blast K-Pop music and propaganda across the border into North Korea, days before a summit between leaders Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un.

South Korea’s defence ministry says the decision to switch off the speakers was made to help “ease military tensions and create a peaceful mood for the meeting”.

The venue for the meeting – Panmunjom, a “truce village” inside the demilitarised zone – is “within the earshot of propaganda broadcasts from both sides”, says The New York Times.

The BBC says it is unclear whether North Korea’s loudspeakers, which “usually play reports that are critical of Seoul and its allies”, will also be switched off.

On Saturday, North Korea “pledged to halt nuclear and missile tests and said it was scrapping its nuclear test site to instead pursue economic growth and peace”, Reuters reports.

Moon and Kim are set to meet on Friday to discuss a number of topics, including nuclear weapons and a possible formal truce to bring an official end to the Korean War.

19 April

North Korea may be ready to sign peace deal, says South

The Easter meeting between CIA director Mike Pompeo and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, revealed yesterday, has raised hopes of peace in South Korea.

Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang was brokered by the South, says The Times, and officials there are now briefing that they hope to finally end a technical state of war with North Korea with a new peace treaty.

An unnamed high-ranking South Korean official yesterday told reporters: “We are looking at a possibility of shifting the Korean peninsula’s armistice to a peace regime. But that’s not a matter than can be resolved between the two Koreas alone.”

“It requires close consultations with other concerned nations, as well as North Korea,” he added. North and South Korea have remained technically at war with each other since armistice in 1953.

The two Koreas are holding a summit this month, with Kim meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The official said: “I do not know if any joint statement to be reached at the inter-Korean summit would include wording about ending the war, but we certainly hope to be able to include an agreement to end hostile acts between the South and North.”

Testing the water

The US at first said little about the meeting between Pompeo and Kim, other than to confirm it took place, but South Korean sources have now said it was intended to assess whether Kim was serious about meeting US President Donald Trump later this year.

Yesterday, a presidential tweet said Pompeo’s meeting had gone “very smoothly” and the two men had formed a “good relationship”. Trump added: “Details of the Summit are being worked out now.”

The CIA director’s visit was the highest-level contact between the US and North Korea since Madeleine Albright visited as Secretary of State in 2000, notes the BBC. Pompeo is Trump’s choice to be Secretary of State after he fired oil tycoon Rex Tillerson.

On Tuesday, Trump told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who met him at his Florida estate: “We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels, with North Korea. I really believe there’s a lot of good will. We’ll see what happens, as I always say, because ultimately it’s the end result that counts.”

But he also insisted he would walk out of the summit if Kim did not take it seriously.

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