North Korea to shut nuclear test site in May

Monday April 30 2018

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) and South

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in shaking hands at the Military Demarcation Line that divides their countries at Panmunjom on on April 27, 2018. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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North Korea has promised to shut its atomic test site within weeks and invite American weapons experts to verify its closure, Seoul reported Sunday, as new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had an "obligation" to pursue peace.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — who may meet US President Donald Trump as early as next month — also said Pyongyang would have no need for nuclear weapons if it were promised it would not be invaded, according to Seoul.

Friday's historic meeting saw Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agree to pursue the complete denuclearisation of the peninsula.

The summit

Washington's new chief diplomat said he and President Kim held in-depth talks about a denuclearisation "mechanism" when they met over Easter.

"We talked a great deal about what it might look like, what this complete, verifiable, irreversible mechanism might look like," Mr Pompeo said.

"We have an obligation to engage in diplomatic discourse to try and find a peaceful solution so that Americans aren't held at risk by Kim Jong Un and his nuclear arsenal," Mr Pompeo told ABC, saying there is a "real opportunity" for progress.

He was speaking as the Blue House in Seoul reported President Kim told President Moon during the summit he would close the North's nuclear test site in May.

US President Donald Trump. FILE | NATION MEDIA

US President Donald Trump. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

President Kim also said he "would soon invite experts of South Korea and the US as well as journalists to disclose the process to the international community with transparency", Seoul's presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan added.

Tensions spiked last year over the North's testing of atomic weapons and long-range missiles, including some capable of reaching the US mainland.

"Kim said 'the US feels repelled by us, but once we talk, they will realise that I am not a person who will fire a nuclear weapon to the South or the US or target the US'," according to Mr Yoon.

The North Korean leader reported added: "If we meet often (with the US), build trust, end the war and eventually are promised no invasion, why would we live with the nuclear weapons?"

President Kim also slammed speculation that the North's Punggye-ri nuclear test site was already unusable after an underground tunnel there reportedly collapsed.

A sweetener

"As they will see once they visit, there are two more tunnels (at the test site) that are even bigger... and they are in good condition," he was quoted as saying.

The remarks are likely to be seen as a sweetener ahead of Trump's eagerly-awaited summit with Kim, which the US president said would take place "in the next three or four weeks".

President Trump touted his ability to achieve a nuclear deal with the regime at a campaign-style rally in Michigan to cheers and chants of "Nobel! Nobel!"

The US leader has been eager to play up his role in achieving a breakthrough with Pyongyang through his "maximum pressure" campaign involving tough rhetoric, stronger sanctions and diplomatic efforts to further isolate the regime.