N. Korea offers to shut nuclear test site in May, invite US experts

PHOTO: AFP

North Korea has promised to shut its atomic test site within weeks and invite American weapons experts to verify its closure, Seoul reported Sunday, as new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had an "obligation" to pursue peace.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- who may meet US President Donald Trump as early as next month -- also said Pyongyang would have no need for nuclear weapons if it were promised it would not be invaded, according to Seoul.

Friday's historic meeting saw Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agree to pursue the complete denuclearisation of the peninsula.

Washington's new chief diplomat said he and Kim held in-depth talks about a denuclearisation "mechanism" when they met over Easter.

"We talked a great deal about what it might look like, what this complete, verifiable, irreversible mechanism might look like," Pompeo said.

"We have an obligation to engage in diplomatic discourse to try and find a peaceful solution so that Americans aren't held at risk by Kim Jong Un and his nuclear arsenal," Pompeo told ABC, saying there is a "real opportunity" for progress.

He was speaking as the Blue House in Seoul reported Kim told Moon during the summit he would close the North's nuclear test site in May.

Kim also said he "would soon invite experts of South Korea and the US as well as journalists to disclose the process to the international community with transparency", Seoul's presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan added.

Kim Jong-un first N Korean leader to cross border into South since war

  • South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kim's wife Ri Sol Ju and Moon's wife Kim Jung-sook attend a farewell ceremony at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018.
  • North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (2nd L) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (L) toast with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in (2nd R) and his wife Kim Jung-sook (R) during the official dinner at the end of their historic summit at the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27, 2018.
  • The leaders of North and South Korea agreed Friday to pursue a permanent peace and the complete denuclearisation of the divided peninsula, as they embraced after a historic summit laden with symbolism.
  • The leaders of North and South Korea agreed Friday to pursue a permanent peace and the complete denuclearisation of the divided peninsula, as they embraced after a historic summit laden with symbolism.
  • Upon signing the document, the two leaders shared a warm embrace, the culmination of a summit filled with smiles and displays of friendship in front of the world’s media.
  • Upon signing the document, the two leaders shared a warm embrace, the culmination of a summit filled with smiles and displays of friendship in front of the world’s media.
  • Among the many spectacles Friday's inter-Korean summit offered was the two Korea's first ladies' first-ever meeting with one another, and the seemingly instant bond they formed.
  • The two were holding hands as they left the Peace House after the dinner, and did not let go of each other's hands until they reached an outdoor property where they watched a special performance celebrating the historic summit together.
  • And the two first ladies, in spite of seeing each other for the first time, seemed to have bonded well after the spring-themed banquet event.
  • And the two first ladies, in spite of seeing each other for the first time, seemed to have bonded well after the spring-themed banquet event.
  • Kim, who is some 30 years Ri's senior, extended a warm welcome and took her to the Peace House, where the summit had been taking place since earlier in the day.
  • In the afternoon, they planted a memorial tree and watered it with water from rivers in the South and North, before walking into a small glen along the border and across the blue footbridge for their private tete-a-tete as the sun set.
  • Moon would visit Pyongyang in “the fall”, the two leaders said, also agreeing to hold “regular meetings and direct telephone conversations”.
  • After the summit, he pledged that the two Koreas will ensure they did not “repeat the unfortunate history in which past inter-Korea agreements... fizzled out after beginning”.
  • The two previous Korean summits in 2000 and 2007, both of them in Pyongyang, also ended with displays of affection and similar pledges, but the agreements ultimately came to naught.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un crossed the border into South Korea for the first time on Friday. The two leaders were handed flowers by a South Korean boy and girl, residents of a village situated in the demilitarised zone.
  • Kim was greeted by the South’s president, Moon Jae-in ahead of the two Koreas’ first summit in more than a decade.
  • Kim said he felt a “swirl of emotion” as he walked the short distance to the border, wondering “why it took so long”, he told Moon later, at the beginning of their meeting.
  • The two leaders smiled and shook hands after which Kim Jong Un gestured to Moon they cross over to North Korea briefly, which they did for a few steps, then returned to the South, holding hands.
  • The two leaders smiled and shook hands after which Kim Jong Un gestured to Moon they cross over to North Korea briefly, which they did for a few steps, then returned to the South, holding hands.
  • A new period in inter-Korean history was beginning, Kim Jong Un said Friday at the opening of a summit with the South.
  • “I came here determined to send a starting signal at the threshold of a new history,” he told his host Moon Jae-in in the Demilitarized Zone, promising a “frank, serious and honest mindset”.
  • Kim wore glasses and his trademark black Mao suit, while the rest of the North Korean delegation appeared in military uniforms or Western attire.
  • Kim stopped to sign a guest book in the South’s Peace House before the two leaders met for a private discussion.
  • His message read: ""A new history begins now. At the starting point of history and the era of peace."
  • Kim escorted by his bodyguards as he makes his way to the Military Demarcation Line.
  • The two men went back to their separate sides for lunch, Kim driven in a black limousine and escorted by a dozen bodyguards in dark suits and ties jogging alongside the vehicle.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in sat down at an oval table to begin their inter-Korean summit Friday, television footage showed.
  • Both leaders viewing the painting of Bukhansan at the Peace House
  • Walking on a red carpet rolled out for the two heads of state, the pair were met by a South Korean honour guard in historical costumes and playing traditional music.
  • The two are expected to talk denuclearisation and exchanges between the Koreas and also will plant a memorial tree at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

Tensions spiked last year over the North's testing of atomic weapons and long-range missiles, including some capable of reaching the US mainland.

"Kim said 'the US feels repelled by us, but once we talk, they will realise that I am not a person who will fire a nuclear weapon to the South or the US or target the US'," according to Yoon.

The North Korean leader reported added: "If we meet often (with the US), build trust, end the war and eventually are promised no invasion, why would we live with the nuclear weapons?"

Kim also slammed speculation that the North's Punggye-ri nuclear test site was already unusable after an underground tunnel there reportedly collapsed.

"As they will see once they visit, there are two more tunnels (at the test site) that are even bigger... and they are in good condition," he was quoted as saying.

'Maximum pressure'

The remarks are likely to be seen as a sweetener ahead of Trump's eagerly-awaited summit with Kim, which the US president said would take place "in the next three or four weeks".

Trump touted his ability to achieve a nuclear deal with the regime at a campaign-style rally in Michigan to cheers and chants of "Nobel! Nobel!"

The US leader has been eager to play up his role in achieving a breakthrough with Pyongyang through his "maximum pressure" campaign involving tough rhetoric, stronger sanctions and diplomatic efforts to further isolate the regime.

"Months ago, do you remember what they were saying? 'He's going to get us into nuclear war, they said,'" Trump told supporters in Washington Township, north of Detroit.

"No, strength is going to keep us out of nuclear war, not going to get us in!"

But Trump also sounded a note of caution, saying he was prepared to walk away if US demands for North Korea to relinquish its atomic arsenal were not met.

'Things are going well'

Trump held phone calls earlier Saturday with both Moon and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, declaring "things are going very well", as CBS News reported that Mongolia and Singapore are the final two locations under consideration for his meeting with Kim.

Pyongyang has demanded as-yet-unspecified security guarantees to discuss its arsenal, but Kim could use the Trump meeting to agree on "the range of nuclear weapons and facilities to be dismantled and specific timeframe to do so", said Hong Min, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

But Kim's remark about his personal good intentions may be aimed at using Trump's "troubling tendency to take authoritarian rulers at their word," said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

Trump's new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, cited Libya's decision to give up its nuclear programme as a model for North Korea.

"We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003, 2004," Bolton told Fox News Sunday.

New era?

Kim and Moon said at their summit that they had a "common goal of realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula."

But the phrase is a diplomatic euphemism open to interpretation on both sides.

Pyongyang has long wanted to see an end to the US military presence and nuclear umbrella over the South, but it invaded its neighbour in 1950 and is the only one of the two Koreas to possess nuclear weapons.

The two leaders also pledged in a joint statement to formally end the Korean War, which ceased in 1953 with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

And in another conciliatory gesture, Kim said he would move North Korea's clocks 30 minutes forward to unify with the South's time zone.

Pyongyang changed its standard time to half an hour behind the South in 2015.

North Korea's parliament on Monday adopted a decree to return to the same time zone as South Korea from May 5, the North's official KCNA news agency said.

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