Seol: North Korea announced on Saturday that it had suspended nuclear and longer-range missile tests and shut down its main nuclear test site as the sanctions-hit country seeks to shift its focus to shoring up its moribund economy.
Leader Kim Jong Un called the completion of its nuclear weapons program a “great victory,” and said that “no nuclear test and intermediate-range and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire are necessary for the DPRK now.”
“The mission of the northern nuclear test ground has thus come to an end,” he added at a gathering of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Pyongyang’s declaration, long sought by Washington, will be seen as a crucial step in the fast diplomatic dance on and around the Korean peninsula.
It comes less than a week before the North Korean leader meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a summit in the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula, ahead of the eagerly-awaited encounter with Trump himself.
Within minutes of the report’s issuance, U.S. President Donald Trump, who is due to hold a planned summit with Kim by June to discuss the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” tweeted: “This is very good news for North Korea and the World- big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”
A message from Kim Jong Un: “North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.”
Also will “Shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s Northern Side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests.” Progress being made for all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2018
However, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was less sanguine.
“I want to welcome these positive moves, but I wonder if this will lead to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal, weapons of mass destruction and missiles,” Abe said. “I’d like to keep a close eye on the developments.”
But Kim gave no indication Pyongyang might be willing to give up its nuclear weapons or the missiles with which it can reach the mainland United States.
But Kim offered no sign he might be willing to give up what he called the North’s “treasured sword”, saying its possession of nuclear weapons was “the firm guarantee by which our descendants can enjoy the most dignified and happiest life in the world”.
Analysts cautioned that while the declaration was welcome, Pyongyang appeared determined to retain its nuclear capability.
The formal declaration of an end to testing comes after Kim stated in his New Year speech that the development of North Korea’s nuclear force had been completed. In the same address, he said he had a nuclear button on his desk, prompting Trump to tweet that he had a bigger one of his own.
The US is seeking the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the North, while according to Moon, Pyongyang wants security guarantees, potentially leaving much space for disagreement.
The North has long demanded the withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula and an end to its nuclear umbrella over South Korea, something unthinkable in Washington.
Several factors have driven the Korean rapprochement, including the North feeling that it can now negotiate from a position of strength, concern about the belligerence of the Trump administration, and the looming impact of sanctions.