Tuesday 16 July 2019

Kim invites experts to view nuke site shutdown

US optimism is countered by critics who doubt North Korea vow to give up nuclear weapons

Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un

Jamie Fullerton

Kim Jong-un has vowed to dismantle North Korea's main nuclear testing site in May and invited South Korean and US experts, as well as journalists, to view the process.

The dictator's pledge was made to Moon Jae-in, South Korea's president, during their historic talks on Friday, according to Mr Moon's spokesman.

As well as promising to close the Punggye-ri bomb testing site, Mr Kim said he would change North Korea's time zone by half an hour, to match South Korea. Reports of the pledges came as senior White House figures spoke optimistically about hopes for full North Korean denuclearisation.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, who held secret talks with Mr Kim (inset) at Easter when he was still head of the CIA, said the US had an "obligation" to pursue a diplomatic solution with North Korea.

He said the US must "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 Kim and Mr Moon, meeting in a "truce village" between their countries' borders on Friday, pledged to work towards the "complete denuclearisation" of the Korean peninsular.

The meeting, which some analysts criticised for not producing a timetable or firm plans for denuclearisation, came ahead of Mr Kim's scheduled talk with US President Donald Trump, within the next few weeks.

According to a team of Chinese geologists, the Punggye-ri site may not be usable anyway, having suffered a land collapse following North Korea's sixth nuclear bomb test in September last year. However, Yoon Young-chan, Mr Moon's spokesman, said that Mr Kim claimed the site still had new tunnels "in a very good condition".

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

Analysts cast doubt over the meaningfulness of Mr Kim's pledges. Before the talks, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Programme at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said Mr Kim did not need the Punggye-ri site, and could "shift big tests to neighbouring mountains".

Professor Tong Zhu, a fellow in the Nuclear Policy Programme at Beijing's Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, said: "There is no way that North Korea is going to give up its nuclear deterrent capability. North Korea worked so hard to obtain that capability in the first place.

"Its primary objective is to keep its nuclear capabilities, then the next priority is to address the negative consequences resulting from its nuclear development. Then to develop a normal relationship with the rest of the international community."

Yesterday, John Bolton, the US national security adviser, was asked by Fox News whether US concessions to North Korea - such as the easing of sanctions - would require Mr Kim to give up his nuclear weapons entirely. "We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003-2004," he replied.

Mr Bolton was referring to Muammar Gaddafi, then Libyan president, allowing US weapons inspectors to help dismantle Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons programmes following years of sanctions.

Analysts have argued Mr Kim sees the fate of Gaddafi, who was toppled from power then killed in 2011 after US forces attacked troops loyal to him, as a cautionary tale.

With the clock ticking towards the historic Trump-Kim meeting, Mr Yoon also suggested Mr Kim's decision to alter North Korea's time zone was made when he saw two wall clocks in a summit room showing different times. Mr Yoon said Mr Kim found it "heartbreaking".

Pope Francis last night lauded Mr Kim and Mr Moon for their "brave commitment... to follow a sincere path to peace towards a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons". (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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