Denying reports that the nuclear testing facility at Punggye-ri has become unusable after one of its main access tunnels experienced a deadly collapse, North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un promised to shutter the facility – a continuation of his promise to halt nuclear and missile tests – as a gesture of sincerity to South Korea and the US.
Kim reportedly informed South Korean President Moon Jae-in of his decision during a brief private conversation between the two leaders during their historic meeting at a village along the demilitarized zone. During the talks, Kim stepped over the ankle-high barrier separating the two countries, becoming the first North Korean leader to cross into the South since the Korean War armistice that ended combat on the peninsula in 1953.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Kim told his South Korean counterpart that he saw no reason to “live under difficult conditions” because of his nuclear arsenal – presumably referring to the punishing economic sanctions that have been levied against the country since the beginning of the Trump era – if he could instead “build trust” with the US and the South.
“Why would we need to live under such difficult conditions with nuclear weapons if we’re able to build trust with the U.S. at future meetings, and the U.S. promises nonaggression and an end to the Korean War?” Mr. Kim was quoted as telling Mr. Moon by Yoon Young-chan, a spokesman for South Korea’s presidential office.
Pushing back against claims that his recent bid for peace has been nothing more than an opportunistic diplomatic distraction while the country rebuilds its nuclear testing capabilities, Kim claimed that two tunnels at Punggye-ri are still usable, and insisted that the country could carry on with tests if it wanted to, according to Bloomberg.
Furthermore, according to Reuters, Kim plans to invite experts and journalists from the United States and South Korea when the country shuts its nuclear test site in May.
Kim added that the North has “no intention” of ever using nuclear weapons against the South. And in what was another first for a North Korean leader, Kim also stopped to take questions from reporters during the summit.
Ahead of an historic meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump expected within the next three to four weeks, Kim told South Korea’s president that two tunnels at the nuclear test site are still in good condition, playing down international speculation that the site was so badly damaged by nuclear explosions that it can no longer be used. Kim’s pledges to Moon at their historic summit on Friday were detailed in Seoul on Sunday by Moon’s chief communication official.
Kim told President Moon Jae-in on the disputed Korean border that Trump will learn at their meeting that North Korea has no intention of using its nuclear arsenal toward South or the Pacific or to target the U.S. The North had no reason to own nuclear weapons if it and the U.S. promise non-aggression against each other, he said, according the the Seoul briefing.
Kim also told his South Korean counterpart that he would convince the US to abandon its “inherently hostile” attitude toward the North.
During Friday’s meeting, Mr. Kim said that he believed Washington was “inherently hostile” to the North Korean regime, but that he was confident U.S. officials would be convinced he isn’t the “kind of person to launch nuclear weapons towards the U.S.,” according to Mr. Yoon. The North Korean leader also said at Friday’s summit that “there should never be another war on the Korean Peninsula,” according to Mr. Yoon.
And in a promise that reminded the world of one of the country’s most bizarre acts of political retribution, Kim promised to realign its time zone with the South after moving the country’s clocks back 30 minutes three years ago, purportedly to somehow spite the South.
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Meanwhile, back in the US, President Trump insisted that Kim is serious about coming to a peaceful agreement that would involve the North abandoning its nuclear arsenal during a Saturday night rally in Michigan.
“I’m not going to give you what’s going to actually happen because we don’t really know, but I’ll tell you one thing—we’re not playing games,” he said.
At one point, the crowd burst into chants of “Nobel, Nobel, Nobel” suggesting that Trump should also be considered for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, an honor that was bestowed on his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, during his first term in office.
During the rally, Trump revealed that the US and North Korea had narrowed down the list of potential locations for the historic summit to two or three places, while reminding the crowd that by bringing North Korea to the table, a success that Trump has personally been credited with by senior South Korea officials, he had “once again proven all of his doubters wrong.”
“If we would have said where we are today from three or four months ago, remember they were saying ‘he’s going to get us into nuclear war’,” Trump said. “Strength is going to keep us out of nuclear war; it’s not going to get us in.”