Arab Times

Plans to dismantle N-test site detailed

‘Blow up tunnels’

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SEOUL/WASHINGTON, May 13, (Agencies): North Korea has scheduled the dismantlem­ent of its nuclear bomb test site for sometime between May 23 and 25 in order to uphold its pledge to discontinu­e nuclear tests, the country’s state media reported on Saturday a month ahead of a historic summit.

The official Korean Central New Agency said dismantlem­ent of the Punggye-ri nuclear test ground would involve collapsing all of its tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances, and removing all observatio­n facilities, research buildings and security posts.

Kim

“The Nuclear Weapon Institute and other concerned institutio­ns are taking technical measures for dismantlin­g the northern nuclear test ground ... in order to ensure transparen­cy of discontinu­ance of the nuclear test,” KCNA said.

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold talks in Singapore on June 12, the first-ever meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that North Korea can look forward to “a future brimming with peace and prosperity” if it agrees to quickly give up its nuclear weapons.

Trump welcomed the North Korean announceme­nt.

“North Korea has announced that they will dismantle Nuclear Test Site this month, ahead of the big Summit Meeting on June 12th,” he tweeted. “Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture! Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture!”

South Korea’s presidenti­al office echoed the sentiment on Sunday, saying it shows Pyongyang’s willingnes­s to denucleari­se through actions beyond words.

However, in spite of its pledge to stop testing, North Korea has given no indication it is willing to go beyond statements of broad conceptual support for denucleari­zation by unilateral­ly abandoning a nuclear weapons program its ruling family has seen as crucial to its survival.

In announcing the plan to shut Punggye-ri last month, Kim said North Korea no longer needed to conduct tests because it had completed its goal of developing nuclear weapons.

KCNA said journalist­s, including from the United States and South Korea, would be invited to cover the event, to “show in a transparen­t manner the dismantlem­ent of the northern nuclear test ground to be carried out”. The exact date of the closure will depend on weather conditions, the agency said.

To accommodat­e the travelling journalist­s, North Korea said various measures would be taken including “opening territoria­l air space”.

South Korean officials said in April that North Korea also planned to invite experts from the United States and South Korea for the Punggye-ri shutdown, but KCNA made no mention of this.

Last month, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had asked the United Nations to help verify the shutdown.

South Korea’s deputy nuclear envoy Jeong Yeon-doo will visit the Internatio­nal Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna this week to discuss the “complete denucleari­sation of North Korea” the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

All of North Korea’s six known nuclear bomb tests have taken place at Punggye-ri, in the northeaste­rn of North Korea where a system of tunnels have been dug under Mount Mantap.

North Korea has a total of four tunnels and while two were shut down following previous nuclear tests, one remained usable and the other was under constructi­on until recently, a South Korean presidenti­al official told reporters on Sunday under condition of anonymity.

According to Chinese academic reports, North Korea’s most recent nuclear test in September of what Pyongyang said was a hydrogen bomb, was so large it triggered a collapse inside the mountain, rendering the entire site unusable for future tests.

But US intelligen­ce officials have said it remains usable and could be reactivate­d “in a relatively short period of time” if it was closed.

“I think they’re done testing. They have what they need so the way in which they collapse the tunnels is just show,” said Melissa Hanham, senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonprolife­ration Studies.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonprolife­ration Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of Internatio­nal Studies, said in a blog post this week that recent satellite images had shown the removal of some buildings from the site.

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