Korea Approves S. Korean Journalists to Observe Nuclear Test Site Closing

Lynette PayneMay 23, 2018

North Korea on Wednesday allowed South Korean journalists to join the small group of foreign media in the country to witness the dismantling of its nuclear test site this week, Seoul officials said.

In a surprise announcement Pyongyang said earlier this month that it planned to "completely" destroy the Punggye-ri facility in the country's northeast, a move welcomed by Washington and Seoul.

The closing was announced by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of his planned summit with U.S. President Donald Trump next month.

"They are here of their own free will - but if any of them are sent back to the North then there is a very high likelihood that they will be killed", said Song, who is also a professor at the Center for Global Creation and Collaboration at Seoul's Sangmyung University.

The dismantling of the North's Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where all of its six nuclear bomb test explosions occurred, is expected to happen on May 24 or 25 depending on weather. -South Korean military exercises that it calls an invasion rehearsal.

Mr Trump said he hoped that Chinese President Xi Jinping was committed to the goal of denuclearising the Korean Peninsula, calling him a world-class poker player. Trump also said the meeting could be delayed as he met with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in Washington on Tuesday.

Some in the United States government worry that Moon may be prepared to accept a less-stringent version of North Korean denuclearisation than Washington wants.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo later told reporters the Trump administration was still planning for a June 12 summit, but he declined to predict whether it would actually take place.

A handful of foreign journalists, including from South Korea, were originally invited to attend.

Pompeo was asked at a congressional hearing if the meeting in Singapore on June 12 will happen or not after Trump said Tuesday "there's a very substantial chance" it won't go off as planned.

Last week Pyongyang threatened to pull out of that summit if Washington pressed for its unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Technical experts have not been invited to the decommissioning of the site, raising further questions whether the gesture is for show. North Korea could build a new site if it decides it needs more testing or could dismantle the tunnels into Punggye-ri's Mount Mantap in a reversible manner.

Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said both sides were playing "a game of chicken" in the run up to the summit "to gain an upper hand in negotiations".

Moon's White House visit was meant to be a fine-tuning of the United States and South Korean strategy for dealing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Reporters from China, Britain, the U.S. and Russian Federation yesterday flew from Beijing to the North Korean city of Wonsan, from where they will travel for some 20 hours up the east coast by train and bus to the remote test site.

"When Bolton gave an interview and talked about following a Libya model, Pyongyang said, 'I don't think so, that ain't happening". But Kim Ye-seul, a nutritionist in her early thirties, said she didn't feel North Korea should be made to abandon its nuclear weapons.

"You never know about deals", he said.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon expressed "regrets that South Korean press corps were unable to visit the North due to North Korea's lack of follow-up measures despite inviting them".

Moon said he realized many were skeptical in USA about the summit, "but I don't think there will be positive developments in history if we just assume that, because it all failed in the past, it will fail again".

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