North Korea plans to officially dismantle its nuclear test site at the end of this month at a ceremony attended by foreign media, which will pave the way for the summit of leader Kim Jong-UN with US President Donald trump.
State authorities will put the site out of operation by using explosives to collapse the tunnels used for testing between 23 and 25 May, the foreign ministry said in a statement on the official KCNA website.
Above ground North Korea will block all entries to the site, and remove all guard posts, observation sites and research institutes, the report said. Guards and researchers will be withdrawn, and the area shut off.
Chinese geologists believe the mountain over the main site was likely to have collapsed after North Korea exploded its largest ever nuclear weapon last year, making it unsafe for further testing and requiring radiation monitoring.
But Kim’s move to formally decommission the test site and invite foreign journalists to a highly sensitive military site to observe its shutdown is another gesture of goodwill before the 12 June summit with Trump in Singapore.
It comes after the Pyongyang government released three American citizens it had been holding. The men, who Trump had described as hostages, were handed over to newly confirmed secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, on his second trip to the North Korean capital to prepare for the summit.
He described his meetings with Kim as substantive and said he had offered US economic help to North Korea if the country gives up its nuclear weapons.
Many long-term analysts are sceptical that Kim, who only announced in December that the country’s nuclear forces were completed, will give up such a hard-won prize even for extremely generous aid.
The fate of autocrats like Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who gave up their weapons programmes only to be toppled in western-backed military actions, has been noted in Pyongyang.
Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear agreement his predecessor Barack Obama forged with Iran may also give Kim pause for thought about the durability of any deal he makes with a US president.
For now, however, Kim appears to be on a diplomatic offensive, offering concessions many thought he would try to use as bargaining chips at the meeting with Trump, including the prisoner release and decommissioning the test site.
Foreign journalists will be invited to observe the shutdown of the facility where North Korea has tested several generations of nuclear weapons, “to ensure the transparency of discontinuance of the nuclear test”.
“A ceremony for dismantling the nuclear test ground is now scheduled between May 23 and 25, depending on weather condition,” the report said.
Correspondents from the United States, Britain, Russia, China and South Korea will be flown in a special charter flight from Beijing to the newly expanded resort town of Wonsan, then take a special train to the remote test site in an “uninhabited deep mountain area” near the northern border.
They will sleep and eat on board the train, but a press centre will be set up so they can “transmit … about dismantlement of the test ground which they have covered on the spot”.