Kim Jong Un told the South Korean president that he will make the dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site public by inviting foreign experts and journalists to observe its destruction, Seoul revealed Sunday morning.
At the landmark inter-Korean summit Friday, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared an end to war on the Korean Peninsula and agreed to pursue the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
North Korea announced plans earlier in April to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where North Korea has conducted half a dozen nuclear tests, each larger and more destructive than the last. “The nuclear test and the intercontinental ballistic missile test will be discontinued,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported, “North Korea’s nuclear test center will be discarded in order to ensure the transparency of the suspension of the nuclear test.”
Following this unexpected announcement, reporters and analysts began debating whether or not the nuclear test site was even suitable for additional nuclear tests given the damage it sustained during the sixth nuclear test, which involved a staged thermonuclear weapon (hydrogen bomb) with an explosive yield far greater than anything the country had previously tested.
There has been a lot of talk about “tired mountain syndrome,” and Chinese scientists believe that part of North Korea’s nuclear test site collapsed during the last test, potentially rendering the site unusable for weapons testing. Other scholars argue that even if the North portal is no longer functional, the West and South portals could still be used.
“Some say that we are terminating facilities that are not functioning, but you will see that they are in good condition,” Blue House Chief Press Secretary Yoon Young-chan told reporters Sunday, quoting the North Korean leader. Kim apparently stressed to his southern counterpart that there exist two other portals that can be used for nuclear testing.
U.S. intelligence assesses that the nuclear test site is still operational, noting that any closure could potentially be easily reversed.
But, Kim is supposedly going to open his country up and allow outsiders to watch him dismantle the whole thing. Although, it should be noted that North Korea also invited experts and journalists to watch the destruction of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, where it produced plutonium. At that same time, North Korea was building a secret uranium enrichment facility.
Kim reportedly told Moon that he is open to abandoning his nuclear weapons if peace can be guaranteed. “Why would we keep nuclear weapons and live in a difficult condition if we often meet with Americans to build trust and they promise us to end the war and not to invade us?” Yoon said, again quoting the young leader who recently visited South Korea for the first time.
Kim is expected to meet with President Donald Trump in the next few weeks.
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