Pyongyang Pledges to Halt Nuclear and Longer-range Missile Tests
Japan Times - North Korea announced Saturday that it had suspended nuclear and longer-range missile tests and shut down its main nuclear test site as the sanctions-hit country seeks to shift its focus to shoring up its moribund economy, state media said, less than a week ahead of a key inter-Korean summit.
Leader Kim Jong Un called the completion of its nuclear weapons program a “great victory,” and said that “no nuclear test and intermediate-range and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire are necessary for the DPRK now.”
“The mission of the northern nuclear test ground has thus come to an end,” he added at a gathering of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
The party decided at the meeting that nuclear tests and ICBM launches will cease as of Saturday — the last long-range missile test was in November — and that the North’s main Punggye-ri nuclear test site will be “dismantled to transparently guarantee” the end of testing, the report said. North Korea has conducted all of its six nuclear tests at the Punggye-ri site in the country’s northeast since 2006.
Within minutes of the report’s issuance, U.S. President Donald Trump, who is due to hold a planned summit with Kim by June to discuss the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” tweeted: “This is very good news for North Korea and the World- big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”
Speaking to reporters, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was less sanguine.
“I want to welcome these positive moves, but I wonder if this will lead to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal, weapons of mass destruction and missiles,” Abe said. “I’d like to keep a close eye on the developments.”
Defense Minister Itsunori Onoderasaid Japan still had concerns despite the pledge.
“We can’t be satisfied,” media reports quoted Onodera as telling reporters in Washington, saying North Korea did not mention the “abandonment of short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles.”
Japan, one of the strongest backers of the U.S.-led “maximum pressure” campaign to push the reclusive state to abandon its nuclear weapons program, will not change its policy of heaping pressure on Pyongyang, he added.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said Kim’s announcement was a step in the right direction but that more must be done.
“Kim Jong Un is simultaneously claiming North Korea has completed all the steps it needs for a nuclear deterrent force and making some important but reversible pledges toward denuclearization,” Kimball said. “His announcement to close the test site is significant but reversible. It is crucial that the U.S. and South Korea and Japan and China must seek ways to solidify the pledge.”
Kimball said doing so “can and should emerge from the summit, but the summit will be, at best, just the first stage of a long denuclearization and normalization process.”
Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, also cautioned against heightened expectations for the meeting.
“The contours of negotiation on how to roll back these programs have yet to emerge, but we should not mistake that a moratorium on testing meets our expectations of what eventually needs to be done,” she said.
Kim is also scheduled to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Freedom House on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Friday, when he will become the first North Korean leader to set foot on South Korean soil. That summit will be just the third ever between the leaders of the two Koreas.
Relations between the North and South, and even between Pyongyang and Washington, have seen a thaw after months of soaring tensions as the North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test last year and launched more than 20 missiles — including two intermediate-range weapons that flew over Japan and another long-range missile that experts say puts the whole of the United States in striking distance. With the test of that long-range missile in November, the North said it had “realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”
South Korea welcomed the North’s announcement on Saturday.
“North Korea’s decision is meaningful progress for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which the world wishes for,” the presidential Blue House said in a statement.
“It will create a very positive environment for the success of the upcoming inter-Korean and North-U.S. summits,” it added.
The Blue House vowed to bolster preparations for the Moon-Kim summit “so that it could lead the way toward denuclearization and a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Moon said Thursday that Kim isn’t asking for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as a precondition for abandoning his nuclear weapons. If true, this would appear to remove a major roadblock to a potential deal under which Kim relinquishes his nuclear arsenal.
The North has for decades tied its development of nuclear weapons to what it has labeled a “hostile” U.S. policy — a reference to the 28,500 troops on its “doorstep” in South Korea, as well as the roughly 50,000 troops stationed in Japan.
Kim’s moves are likely aimed at easing long-standing concerns on the South Korean and U.S. side that the North will never give up its nuclear weapons. But Kim’s allusions to the possibility of “dramatic changes” have left the door open to the possibility.
Quoting Kim, the KCNA report said the country is shifting its national focus to improving the economy.
Kim, in a reference to his byungjin (dual progress) policy that focuses on the simultaneous development of its economy and nuclear weapons program, “declared with pride that the historic tasks under the strategic line of simultaneously developing the two fronts set forth at the March 2013 Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Party were successfully carried out.”
Kim told Saturday’s meeting that “a fresh climate of detente and peace is being created on the Korean Peninsula and the region and dramatic changes are being made in the international political landscape.”
He said that since it was now a powerful state, “the whole party and country” should concentrate on “socialist economic construction,” in what he called the party’s “new strategic line.”
After cementing his domestic position through sometimes bloody purges and bolstering his international standing via his “completed” nuclear weapons program, Kim could now have “the confidence to accept credible security guarantees that come with building a ‘permanent peace regime,’ assuming Trump offers them,” John Delury, an associate professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul, wrote Wednesday on the Monkey Page Blog hosted by The Washington Post.
“In return, Kim looks strong enough to make real concessions in halting, dismantling and eliminating his strategic weapons program,” he added.
Kim’s diplomatic outreach, he wrote, “should be understood as part of the unfolding of byungjin, and probably signals a pivot from security to prosperity, isolation to integration, ICBMs to SEZs (special economic zones).”
The young North Korean leader, he wrote, “appears ready to make that transition, and, understood in that light, the summit presents a rare opportunity for progress.”
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