North Korea has achieved its goal of developing a nuclear arsenal and is suspending further tests of atomic weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles, its state-run media reported, citing leader Kim Jong Un. North Korean leader reportedly announced his country will stop conducting nuclear and missile tests.
“From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.The North will shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear test,” Yonhap reported.
North Korea further claimed that a nuclear test centre “will be discarded in order to ensure the transparency of the suspension of the nuclear test.” The regime conducted its most recent nuclear test in September 2017. It’s last known ICBM test occurred in November the same year, according to a timeline compiled by the Arms Control Association.
While North Korea’s statement could indicate a positive step toward lowering tensions on the Korean Peninsula, it falls short of saying it would scrap its existing missiles or nuclear weapons. Experts weighed in with some healthy scepticism about the latest development.
“They have reached a point in their development cycle/testing sequence that this is probably technologically true,” MIT associate professor Vipin Narang wrote on Twitter. “In fact they told us in November already that they had reached completion of their nuclear deterrent.”
They have reached a point in their development cycle/testing sequence that this is probably technologically true. In fact they told us in November already that they had reached completion of their nuclear deterrent. https://t.co/VBSY9ePZW0
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) April 20, 2018
“The precise language here is important,” Narang continued. “Closing the testing site doesn’t preclude atmospheric nuclear tests for example (or other sites). And missile tests could still be conducted under the guise of space launch vehicles,” he said.
In 2008, North Korea signalled it would curb its nuclear program by televising the destruction of a water-cooling tower at a plutonium extraction facility, only to announce that it would “readjust and restart” in 2013. The latest development comes just days before North and South Korean leaders are scheduled to meet for diplomatic talks on April 27.
North Korea has made similar overtures and symbolic gestures ahead of the summit, including reestablishing a dedicated hotline between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim by agreeing to meet with US President Donald Trump for separate discussions at a later date.
Trump praised the news and called it a sign of “big progress.”
“North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site,” Trump wrote on Twitter.“This is very good news for North Korea and the World- big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”
North Korea’s announcement also follows a sharp message from Japan’s defence minister, in which he said that US-led coalition air strikes against Syria’s regime was a “message” to North Korea.
A spokesman for Moon said the KCNA report was a good sign for Friday’s summit, while Trump praised Kim’s statement in a tweet, calling it “very good news for North Korea and the World.”“Big progress!” he added. “Look forward to our Summit.”
North Korea has already effectively halted weapons tests for the past five months, after firing a missile on 29 November believed to be capable of reaching any city in the US. After that launch, which prompted the most restrictive United Nations sanctions yet, Kim declared his regime’s decades-long quest for nuclear weapons “complete.”
Commercial satellite imagery from 17 March showed no evidence of tunnelling operations or the presence of any personnel or vehicles in areas including those near the Command Center at Punggye-ri, according to the 38 North website, which monitors North Korea.
“A fair amount of tunnels have collapsed and there’s even a possibility of radioactive leaks there,” said Hong, who has studied the seismic and geological data obtained from the tests. “Realistically, it’s highly unlikely they can be used for nuclear tests any more.”
If North Korea resumed nuclear testing at some point it would probably pick another site in the east, which is less populated and carries a lower risk of contamination for Pyongyang, Hong added.
Still, the regime has been feeling the economic squeeze of sanctions, including by neighbour and ally China, and Trump has frequently warned of military retaliation if Kim were to threaten the US with its weapons. Kim at the Friday party meeting spoke of the need to prioritize putting energy and resources into building the economy, according to the KCNA statement.
The North Korean leader has placed greater emphasis on economic development alongside his nuclear goals since taking power in 2011, a shift that could make any offers of financial assistance from the US and its allies more appealing in negotiations. In 2013, Kim for the first time declared his goal of “simultaneously‘’ pushing forward economic development and his nuclear force.
“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.”