President Donald Trump responded Saturday to North Korea’s announcement that it plans to dismantle its nuclear test site in less than two weeks, meaning the job would be finished before Trump’s planned summit with Kim Jong Un next month.
“Thank you,” the president tweeted in reaction to the news, adding the move was “a very smart and gracious gesture!”
Earlier in the day, North Korea's Foreign Ministry said the hermit Kingdom plans to destroy all of the tunnels at the country's northeastern testing ground by an explosion, as well as remove the observation and research facilities and guard units at the site.
In the same announcement, North Korea invited journalists from the U.S., South Korea, China, Britain and Russia to witness the event.
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. But analysts say the plan doesn't represent a material step toward full denuclearization.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who recently returned from North Korea after helping to free three American citizens detained by Kim’s regime – said he and Kim had held “substantive” talks during his visit, and was confident that he and Kim “have a pretty good understanding between our two countries about what the shared objectives are.”
But Pompeo added that a “robust verification program” was essential to ensure the success of any agreements that Trump and Kim reach during their planned summit.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted that the "highly anticipated meeting" between himself and Kim, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, represents a potentially "very special moment for World Peace!"
Previously, Moon anfd Kim, during their meeting at a border truce village, vaguely promised to work toward the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula, but made no references to verification or timetables.
North Korea has invited the outside world to witness the dismantling of its nuclear facilities before. In June 2008, international broadcasters were allowed to show the demolishing of a cooling tower at the Nyongbyon reactor site, a year after the North reached an agreement with the U.S. and four other nations to disable its nuclear facilities in return for an aid package worth about $400 million.
But in September 2008, the North declared that it would resume reprocessing plutonium, complaining that Washington wasn't fulfilling its promise to remove the country from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The administration of George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list in October 2008 after the country agreed to continue disabling its nuclear plant. However, a final attempt by Bush to complete an agreement to fully dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons program collapsed that December when the North refused to accept U.S.-proposed verification methods.
The North went on to conduct its second nuclear test in May 2009.
Fox News' Elizabeth Zwirz and Lucia I. Suarez Sang and the Associated Press contributed to this report.