North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he would close the country’s nuclear test site in May in full view of the outside world, Moon’s office said.
North Korea‘s state media has said ahead of the summit that Pyongyang would immediately suspend nuclear and missile tests, scrap its nuclear test site and instead pursue economic growth and peace.
Confirming the report, Kim told Moon that he would invite experts and journalists from the United States and South Korea to ensure “transparency” of the dismantling of the facilities, the Blue House said.
The event may serve as a dramatic setup to Kim’s nuclear negotiations with President Donald Trump that may take place in the next few weeks.
Kim also expressed optimism about his meeting with Trump, saying the US president will learn he’s “not a person” to fire missiles towards the US, Moon’s spokesman Yoon Young-chan said.
Moon and Kim during the summit promised to work towards the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula, but made no references to verification or timetables.
Seoul had also shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to set up a potential meeting between Kim and Trump, which is expected next month or early June.
“Once we start talking, the United States will know that I am not a person to launch nuclear weapons at South Korea, the Pacific or the United States,” Yoon quoted Kim as saying.
“If we maintain frequent meetings and build trust with the United States and receive promises for an end to the war and a non-aggression treaty, then why would we need to live in difficulty by keeping our nuclear weapons?” Yoon quoted Kim as saying.
North Korea this month announced it has suspended all tests of nuclear devices and intercontinental ballistic missiles and plans to close its nuclear testing ground.
Kim reacted to scepticism that the North would only be closing down the northernmost test tunnel at the site in Punggye-ri, which some analysts say became too unstable to conduct further underground detonations following the country’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September.
In his conversation with Moon, Kim denied that he would be merely clearing out damaged goods, saying that the site also has two new tunnels that are larger than previous testing facilities, Yoon said.
The Friday summit between Moon and Kim kicked off a global diplomatic drive to deal with the North’s nuclear and missile threats, which after a flurry of weapons tests last year involve purported thermonuclear weapons, developmental ICBMs and quick-fire solid-fuel missiles.
While the meeting ended with no new concrete measures on the nuclear standoff, the more substantial discussions on the North’s denuclearisation – including what, when and how it would occur – were always going to be reserved for a Kim-Trump summit.
The new round of nuclear negotiations with North Korea comes after a decades-long cycle of crises, stalemates and broken promises that allowed the country the room to build a legitimate arsenal.
Seoul has said Kim expressed genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons.
But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of “denuclearisation” that bears no resemblance to the US definition, vowing to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its troops from the Korean Peninsula and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.
Yoon said Kim also revealed plans to re-adjust its current time zone to match the South’s.
The Koreas used the same time zone for decades before the North in 2015 created its own “Pyongyang Time” by setting the clock 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan.
North Korean then explained the decision as an effort to remove a legacy of Japanese colonial rule.
Local time in South Korea and Japan is the same – nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. It was set during Japan’s rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Yoon said that the North’s decision to return to the Seoul time zone was aimed at facilitating communication with South Korea and also the US.