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File photo of the test launch of a North Korean Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile. Photo: AP

North Korea suspends nuclear and missile tests, gaining praise from US President Donald Trump

Trump welcomed Kim Jong-un’s announcement, saying progress was being made

Kim Jong-un

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has declared he will suspend nuclear and missile tests starting from Saturday, and that he will shut down the site where the previous six nuclear tests were conducted.

“I solemnly declare that we have accomplished credible weaponisation of nuclear forces,” Kim was quoted as saying at a Friday party meeting. 

File photo of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Reuters

“Our decision to suspend nuclear tests is part of the world’s important steps for nuclear disarmament and our republic will join global efforts to completely suspend nuclear tests.”

On Saturday, US President Donald Trump tweeted that progress was being made.

“A message from Kim Jong Un: ‘North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.’ Also will ‘Shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s Northern Side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests.’ Progress being made for all!” he wrote. 

Earlier, Trump described Kim’s announcement as ‘good news’, also on Twitter.

South Korea said the North’s decision signified “meaningful” progress toward denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and would create favourable conditions for successful meetings with it and the US. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also welcomed the North Korean statement but said it must lead to action.

“What’s important is that this leads to complete, verifiable denuclearisation. I want to emphasise this,” Abe told reporters.

Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis pledged to maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea to force it to give up its nuclear and missile programmes, Onodera told reporters after talks with Mattis at the Pentagon.

Still up in the air: where will Trump and Kim hold their summit?

They “affirmed they would maintain pressure and sanctions to compel North Korea to abandon all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible fashion”, according to the Japanese minister.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera at the Pentagon on April 20, 2018. Photo: AP

The comments came before his planned meeting next week with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and a possible summit with US President Donald Trump in May or June.

“From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the Korean Central News Agency said in a report on Saturday.

The remarks came out of a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea held on Friday to discuss policy issues related to “a new stage” in a “historic” period.

“The North will shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear test,” KCNA reported.

Moon has said that Kim is willing to discuss denuclearisation and that he will not insist on American troops being withdrawn from South Korea as part of any deal.

North Korea has defended its nuclear and missile programmes in the face of worldwide condemnation and sanctions as a necessary deterrent against perceived US hostility.

Tensions eased significantly after North Korea’s Kim called in a New Year’s speech for lower military tensions and improved ties with South Korea.

It sent a delegation to the Winter Olympics held in South Korea and agreed to meet Moon and Trump to discuss denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

“This is a very serious initiative, it fits right in with North Korean policy and what they’ve been saying for a while,” said Joel Wit, a senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies who was involved in North Korea talks from 1993 to 1995, referring to Kim’s statement. “They’ve decided that this is the moment to shift gears and to focus on developing their economy, end of story.”

“I don’t know exactly how they’ll go about it,” he said. “But they’re not going to give up their nuclear weapons without reciprocal steps from the US and others. But this is another sign that they are serious.”