US President Donald Trump has hailed as a “gracious gesture” North Korea’s announcement that it will dismantle its nuclear test site in less than two weeks.
The move comes ahead of leader Kim Jong Un’s summit with Mr Trump next month.
In a statement carried by state media, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said all of the tunnels at the country’s north-eastern testing ground will be destroyed by explosion, and observation and research facilities and ground-based guard units will also be removed.
North Korea has announced that they will dismantle Nuclear Test Site this month, ahead of the big Summit Meeting on June 12th. Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2018
Mr Kim had already revealed plans to shut the test site by the end of May during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last month. Analysts say that while the closure of the site is important, it does not represent a material step toward full denuclearisation.
“A ceremony for dismantling the nuclear test ground is now scheduled between May 23 and 25,” depending on weather, the Foreign Ministry’s statement said, adding that journalists from the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Britain will be invited to witness the dismantling.
The ministry said the North will continue to “promote close contacts and dialogue with the neighbouring countries and the international society so as to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and over the globe.”
Mr Trump, in a tweet on Saturday, thanked North Korea for its plan to dismantle the nuclear test site, calling it “a very smart and gracious gesture!”
Following the Moon-Kim meeting, Mr Moon’s office said Mr Kim was willing to disclose the process to international experts, but the North’s statement did not address allowing experts on the site.
South Korea had no immediate response to the statement.
The North’s announcement comes days after Washington announced that the historic summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump will be held on June 12 in Singapore.
The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2018
South Korea has said Mr Kim has genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons in return for economic benefits. However, there are lingering doubts about whether Mr Kim would ever agree to fully relinquish the weapons he probably views as his only guarantee of survival.
During their meeting at a border truce village, Mr Moon and Mr Kim vaguely promised to work towards the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula, but made no references to verification or timetables.
North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of “denuclearisation” that bears no resemblance to the American definition. The North has been vowing to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its 28,500 troops from South Korea and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.
Some experts believe Mr Kim may try to drag out the process or seek a deal in which he gives away his intercontinental ballistic missiles but retains some of his shorter-range arsenal in return for a reduced US military presence in the South. This could satisfy Mr Trump but undermine the alliance between Washington and Seoul.
Mr Kim declared his nuclear force as complete in December, following North Korea’s most powerful nuclear test to date in September and three flight tests of ICBMs designed to reach the US mainland.
North Korea announced at a ruling party meeting last month that it was suspending all tests of nuclear devices and ICBMs, as well as the plan to close the nuclear testing ground.