Kim Jong Un has announced North Korea will suspend all missile tests and plans to close the site where its six previous nuclear tests were conducted ahead of landmark talks with Donald Trump.
The US-North Korea meeting is scheduled for May or June, and although no location has been decided plans are continuing apace, with CIA director Mike Pompeo flying to Pyongyang for talks with Kim over the Easter weekend.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is also due to meet the dictator on April 27 at a border truce village for a rare summit focused on nuclear issues.
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Kim Jong Un (left, in Pyongyang on January 1) is set to meet President Trump (right, at Mar-a-Lago on April 18) in May or June
President Trump heralded the news as ‘very good news for North Korea and the World’, adding that he ‘looks forward’ to the summit he is due to have with Kim in the coming months
President Trump heralded Friday’s announcement, tweeting: ‘North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World – big progress! Look forward to our Summit.’
The decision was made in a meeting of the ruling party’s full Central Committee which had convened to discuss a ‘new stage’ of policies.
‘As the weaponization of nuclear weapons has been verified, it is not necessary for us to conduct any more nuclear tests or test launches of mid- and long range missiles or ICBMs,’ Kim told the assembled party cadres. He then added: ‘The northern nuclear test site has completed its mission.’
Kim’s latest comments echoed those he made in a New Year’s speech, in which he claimed the development of the state nuclear force had been completed.
This followed a test in November during which the North claimed to have launched nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the mainland United States.
This achievement, completely unverified by outside authorities, was the stated aim of North Korea’s nuclear programme and explains Kim’s reference to already have secured the ‘weaponization or nuclear weapons’ [sic] in his comments on Friday.
South Korean envoys have previously cited Kim as promising no more tests, but the recent news is the first such announcement directly by Pyongyang.
The party decided that nuclear and ICBM launches will cease as of Saturday – it has not carried any out since November – and the atomic test site at Punggye-ri ‘will be abolished’.
Pyongyang has made rapid technological progress in its weapons programmes under Kim, which has seen it subjected to increasingly strict sanctions by the UN Security Council, US, EU, South Korea and others. Pictured: A missile launch in North Korean last year
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (right, on April 18) will hold a summit with Kim in a border truce village on April 27
Friday’s move comes after months of threats and counter-threats between President Trump and Kim.
At his New Year speech, the dictator claimed to have a nuclear button on his desk, prompting Trump to tweet that he had an even bigger one.
Events have moved rapidly since then, catalyzed by the Winter Olympics in the South, and Seoul is now pushing for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, raising hopes that a settlement could finally be reached on the peninsula.
But there is a long way to go and Moon himself acknowledged this week that the ‘devil is in the details’.
On Thursday, the South’s president revealed that Kim had expressed his commitment to ‘complete denuclearization’ of the Korean peninsula without seeking conditions.
Pyongyang toned down its rhetoric after Kim announced in his New Year’s address his plan to improve relations with Seoul and send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February. Images of these North Korean cheerleaders during the Olympics were seen around the world
Moon said the North was only seeking an end to ‘hostile policies’ against it and a guarantee of security in return.
‘I don’t think denuclearization has different meanings for South and North Korea,’ he said. ‘The North is expressing a will for a complete denuclearization.
‘All they are talking about is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security.’
The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea has said over the years that it could consider giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.
On Thursday, President Trump told a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that his campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ on North Korea would continue until Pyongyang gave up its nuclear weapons
In a further development on Wednesday, Seoul said it hopes to use the up-coming summit to change a decades-old armistice with North Korea into a peace agreement. China, Kim’s main ally, immediately announced it backed the move.
Reclusive North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
Moon said he saw the possibility of a peace agreement, or even international aid for the North’s economy, if it denuclearizes.
But he also said the inter-Korean summit had ‘a lot of constraints’, in that the two Koreas could not make progress separate from the North Korea-United States summit, and could not reach an agreement that transcends international sanctions.
‘So first, the South-North Korean summit must make a good beginning, and the dialogue between the two Koreas likely must continue after we see the results of the North Korea-United States summit,’ Moon said.
South Korean army soldiers pass by a wire fence decorated with ribbons written with messages wishing for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, on April 20. This is near to where the North-South meeting will take place on April 27
On Thursday, President Trump told a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that his campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ on North Korea would continue until Pyongyang gave up its nuclear weapons.
‘The United States remains committed to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea,’ U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood told a news conference in Geneva on Thursday ahead of a two-week conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
‘In terms of the pressure campaign, things we are very interested in are maintaining the pressure, meaning enforcing sanctions, ensuring that the North is not able to get access to funds that help further his nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.’
On Friday, Seoul and Pyongyang installed a telephone hotline connecting the South’s presidential Blue House and the North’s State Affairs Commission to discuss nuclear issues prior to next week’s summit.
Six top South Korean officials will accompany Moon to the meeting, including his chief of staff, spy chief, national security adviser and unification, defence and foreign ministers.