North Korea to ‘close’ mountain nuclear test site after collapse revelation, unify time zone with Seoul
The last five of Pyongyang’s six nuclear tests have all been carried out under Mount Mantap at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea’s northwest
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has pledged to close the country’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site in May and let US and South Korean experts and media confirm the closure, Seoul officials said on Sunday, as US President Trump pressed for total denuclearisation before his meeting with Kim.
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 anticipated meeting with Trump, saying the US president will learn he is “not a person” to fire missiles towards the United States, Moon’s spokesman Yoon Young-chan said.
Moon and 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 Kim and Trump, which is expected late 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,” Yoon quoted 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?” Yoon quoted Kim as saying.
On Sunday, Seoul said Kim was also prepared to talk to Japan at “any time”. Japan – the main US ally in Asia – has long maintained a hardline position on negotiations with Pyongyang, but has found itself left on the sidelines of the recent whirlwind diplomatic activity.
North Korea this month announced it has suspended all tests of nuclear devices and intercontinental missiles and plans to close its nuclear testing ground.
The statement came after two separate groups of Chinese scientists confirmed last week that North Korea’s mountain nuclear test site had collapsed, putting China and other nearby nations at the risk of radioactive exposure.
The disintegration following five nuclear blasts may be why Kim declared on Friday that he would freeze the hermit state’s nuclear and missile tests and shut down the site, one researcher said.
The mountain’s collapse and the prospect of radioactive exposure in the aftermath, confirm a series of exclusive reports by the South China Morning Post on China’s fears that Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test caused a fallout leak.
In his conversation with Moon, 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, Yoon said.
Yoon said Kim also revealed plans to readjust its current time zone to match the South’s.
The Koreas used the same time zone for decades before the North in 2015 created its own “Pyongyang Time” by setting the clock 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan.
North Korean then explained the decision as an effort to remove a legacy of Japanese colonial rule. Local time in South Korea and Japan is the same – nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. It was set during Japan’s rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Yoon said that the North’s decision to return to the Seoul time zone was aimed at easing communication with South Korea and also the United States.
Reuters, Kyodo, Associated Press