North Korea has scheduled a “ceremony” to dismantle its nuclear testing site on May 23-25 ahead of President Donald Trump’s summit with leader Kim Jong Un next month.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that all the tunnels at the country’s northeastern testing ground will be destroyed by explosion and that observation and research facilities and ground-based testing units will also be removed. The dramatic and symbolic event is part of the Hermit Kingdom’s pledge to discontinue nuclear tests.
“The Nuclear Weapon Institute and other concerned institutions are taking technical measures for dismantling the northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK in order to ensure transparency of discontinuance of the nuclear test,” said the announcement. DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The North said they plan to invite journalists from the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Britain to inspect the dismantling process.
Analysts say the closure of the site is mostly symbolic and doesn't represent a material step toward denuclearization.
The announcement comes after Trump said he would hold a summit with Kim in Singapore on June 12. It will be the first meeting ever between a sitting U.S. president and the leader of North Korea.
Kim had revealed plans to shut down the nuclear test site during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last month.
Following the Moon-Kim summit, Moon's office said Kim was willing to disclose the process to international experts, but the North's statement Saturday didn't include any mention about allowing experts on the site.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said North Korea can look forward to “a future brimming with peace and prosperity” if it agrees to quickly give up its nuclear weapons.
At a ruling party meeting last month, North Korea had already announced that it has suspended all tests of nuclear devices and ICBMs and the plan to close the nuclear testing ground.
Still, the closure of the site could be a useful precedent for Washington and Seoul as they proceed with the nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang, analysts say.
"Now that North Korea has accepted in principle that agreements should be verified, U.S. negotiators should hold them to this standard for any subsequent agreement," said Adam Mount, a senior defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. "It will make it more difficult for Kim Jong Un to deny inspections now that he has placed them on the table."
North Korea’s six known nuclear tests have taken place in Punggye-ri, a location in the northeastern part of North Korea where a system of tunnels have been dug under Mount Mantap, Reuters reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.