North Korea said Saturday that it will dismantle its nuclear test site on May 23-25, in a dramatic event that would set up leader Kim Jong Un’s summit with President Donald Trump next month.
Kim had revealed plans to shut down the country’s northeastern testing ground by the end of May during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last month. Analysts say the closure of the site is mostly symbolic and doesn’t represent a material step toward denuclearization.
In a statement carried by state media, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that all of the tunnels at the site will be destroyed by explosion, and that observation and research facilities and ground-based guard units will also be removed.
The North plans to invite journalists from the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Britain to inspect the process, the statement said.
Following the Moon-Kim summit, Moon’s office said Kim was willing to disclose the process to international experts, but the North’s statement Saturday didn’t include any mention about allowing experts on the site.
The North’s announcement comes days after Washington announced that the historic summit between Kim and Trump will be held June 12 in Singapore.
Seoul, which shuttled between Washington and Pyongyang to set up the Trump-Kim meeting, has said Kim has genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons in return for economic benefits. However, there are lingering doubts about whether Kim would ever agree to fully relinquish the weapons he likely views as his only guarantee of survival.
Kim declared his nuclear forced as complete in December, following the country’s most powerful nuclear test to date in September and also three flight tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the U.S. mainland.
At a ruling party meeting last month, North Korea had already announced that it has suspended all tests of nuclear devices and ICBMs and the plan to close the nuclear testing ground.
Still, the closure of the site could be a useful precedent for Washington and Seoul as they proceed with the nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang, analysts say.
“Now that North Korea has accepted in principle that agreements should be verified, U.S. negotiators should hold them to this standard for any subsequent agreement,” said Adam Mount, a senior defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. “It will make it more difficult for Kim Jong Un to deny inspections now that he has placed them on the table.”
North Korea has invited the outside world to witness the dismantling of its nuclear facilities before. In June 2008, international broadcasters were allowed to air the demolishing of a cooling tower at the Nyongbyon reactor site, a year after the North reached an agreement with the U.S. and four other nations to disable its nuclear facilities in return for an aid package worth about $400 million.