North Korea 'to close nuclear site' in May and open facility to US and Seoul

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to shut down the country's nuclear test site in May and open the process to experts and journalists from South Korea and the United States, Seoul's presidential office has said.

The event may serve as a dramatic set-up to Mr Kim's crucial nuclear negotiations with President Donald Trump that may take place in the next few weeks amid widespread scepticism on whether the North will ever fully surrender its nuclear weapons.

Mr Kim made the comments during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday at a border truce village, where he also expressed optimism about his meeting with Mr Trump, saying the US president will learn he's "not a person" to fire missiles toward the United States, Mr Moon's spokesman Yoon Young-chan said.

Mr Moon and Mr Kim during the summit promised to work towards the "complete denuclearisation" of the Korean Peninsula, but made no references to verification or timetables.

Seoul had also shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to set up a potential meeting between Mr Kim and President Trump, which is expected next month or early June.

"Once we start talking, the United States will know that I am not a person to launch nuclear weapons at South Korea, the Pacific or the United States," Mr Yoon quoted Mr Kim as saying.

"If we maintain frequent meetings and build trust with the United States and receive promises for an end to the war and a non-aggression treaty, then why would be need to live in difficulty by keeping our nuclear weapons?" Mr Yoon quoted Mr Kim as saying.

North Korea this month announced it has suspended all tests of nuclear devices and intercontinental ballistic missiles and plans to close its nuclear testing ground.

Mr Kim reacted to scepticism that the North would only be closing down the northernmost test tunnel at the site in Punggye-ri, which some analysts say became too unstable to conduct further underground detonations following the country's sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September.

In his conversation with Mr Moon, Mr Kim denied that he would be merely clearing out damaged goods, saying that the site also has two new tunnels that are larger than previous testing facilities, Mr Yoon said.

The Friday summit between Mr Moon and Mr Kim kicked off a global diplomatic drive to deal with the North's nuclear and missile threats, which after a flurry of weapons tests last year involve purported thermonuclear weapons, developmental ICBMs and quick-fire solid-fuel missiles.

While the meeting ended with no new concrete measures on the nuclear stand-off, the more substantial discussions on the North's denuclearisation - including what, when and how it would occur - were always going to be reserved for a Kim-Trump summit.

The new round of nuclear negotiations with North Korea comes after a decades-long cycle of crises, stalemates and broken promises that allowed the country the room to build a legitimate arsenal.

More on this topic

North Korea rocket launch ‘would be catastrophe for diplomacy’

Woman accused of murdering North Korean leader’s half brother freed

Trump still hopeful of North Korea nuclear deal despite activity at launch site

North Korean leader returns home after failed nuclear summit with Trump

More in this Section

Speaker thwarts third vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal without ‘substantial’ changes

Adulthood begins at 30, brain scientists say

Media unfairly blaming me for Christchurch mosque attacks, Donald Trump says

Students join vigil after Christchurch mosque killings


Lifestyle

All set for summer with a ray of festivals and gigs to chose from

A growing awareness to grow, cook and eat

Making Cents: Making their day special without breaking the bank

More From The Irish Examiner