North Korea’s state-run media has reported that it has stopped the testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles and atomic weapons. The media reports that according to Kim Jong Un, the country has already met its goal of building up a nuclear arsenal.
The Korean Central News Agency has reported Kim Jong Un as saying that their nuclear testing site will be closed down. He was referring to a remote mountain valley, Punggye-ri, which is found northeast of Pyongyang.
Punggye-ri is where all of the six nuclear blast tests under Kim Jong Un took place. The area is showing signs of structural fragility, with experts questioning the safety of continuing testing in the area.
On Friday, Kim Jong Un said, “I solemnly declare that we have accomplished credible weaponization of nuclear forces. Our decision to suspend nuclear tests is part of the world’s important steps for nuclear disarmament and our republic will join global efforts to completely suspend nuclear tests.”
On April 27th, the North Korean leader is set to have talks with Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea , and also a summit with American president Donald Trump in either May or June.
Mr. Kim has mentioned the completion of his nuclear arsenal before, and makes no mention of future disarmament, but his announcement of shuttering the testing site may be taken as a sign of his intent to come to the meetings with Mr. Moon and Mr. Trump peacefully.
On an official level, both South Korea and the US responded positively to Mr. Kim’s announcement. Mr Trump tweeted that it was “very good news for North Korea and the World.” He also said, “Big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”
There have been no nuclear tests in North Korea in the last five months.
The last time was on November 29, 2017, when North Korea set off a missile that has the power to reach major US cities. While this resulted in heavy sanctions from the UN, it was then that Mr. Kim first announced that North Korea’s goal to develop nuclear weapons had been accomplished.
Satellite images at Punggye-ri have shown minimal action in the area. Experts assert that there are cave-ins among the tunnels there, as well as radioactive contamination, making the site undesirable for any further testing, according to a professor of geophysics at Seoul’s Yonsei University, Hong Tae-Kyung.
The Korean Central News Agency also said after the Worker’s Party last Friday that stopping nuclear testing is “an important process for the worldwide disarmament. The DPRK will join the international desire and efforts for the total halt to the nuclear test.”
Others around the would remain cautious. A professor at the Korean National Diplomatic Academy said what Mr KIm has said is a “very carefully coordinated calculation to build hopes of the world that it’s open to changes that could possibly follow the summits,” but, “It’s still hard to tell from the statement if it has genuine intent to denuclearize. Contents-wise, there’s no real change in its position.”
Mr. Kim, who has long desired for North Korea to be counted as a nuclear power, is likely to make the disarmament that the US, South Korea and other countries are seeking, a long and difficult process.
The South Korean leader said “Realistically speaking, we’re just entering the threshold for a dialogue.”
However, sanctions from other counties has caused North Korea to pay a steep economic price, and Mr. Kim has made economic development a priority ever since he assumed leadership seven years ago.
In China’s state media outlet, Global Times, one editorial reads that this is a “major opportunity to bring the Korean Peninsula out of the Cold War shadows. t is hoped that Washington will take real action to consolidate the upbeat atmosphere, which includes scrapping U.S.-South Korea joint military drills or considerably reducing the size and frequency of the drills at the very least.”
The Global Times editorial also called on Japan, South Korea and the US to lift sanctions on North Korea at once, something that the Finance Minister of Japan, Taro Aso, was none to pleased about. “We have made many promises with North Korea, we paid money on the condition that they would end a test facility and such. But I remember that they just took our money.”
Shnizo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, has said that Japan’s treatment of North Korea remains unchanged.
The US, however, has had a more positive attitude toward Mr. Kim’s announcement.
A senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Joel Wit, said, “This is a very serious initiative, it fits right in with North Korean policy and what they’ve been saying for a while. They’ve decided that this is the moment to shift gears and to focus on developing their economy, end of story.”