North Korean leader Kim Jong Un plans to shutter his country’s nuclear test site next month and will invite foreign experts and journalists to view the dismantling, as planning ramps up for a landmark meeting between him and U.S. President Donald Trump.
South Korean presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan said Sunday that Kim had conveyed his intentions to South Korean President Moon Jae-in during Friday’s historic inter-Korean summit, the first in more than a decade.
During their meeting, Kim and Moon vowed to press forward on the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, though their declaration did not include concrete steps on how they plan to reach that goal.
Yoon said Kim told Moon that he would “carry out the closing” of the Punggye-ri test site in the country’s northeast “in May,” and would soon invite outside experts and journalists “to disclose the process to the international community with transparency.”
Tensions have eased on the Korean Peninsula amid a flurry of diplomatic activity after hitting fresh highs last year, when the North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and test-fired a missile capable of striking most of the continental United States. It is not known to have conducted a missile test since late November.
Yoon also quoted Kim as saying that Trump will see that he is “not the kind of person” to fire nuclear-tipped missiles toward the U.S.
“Although I am inherently resistant toward America, people will see that I am not the kind of person who fires nukes at South Korea, the Pacific or America,” Kim said. “Why would we keep nuclear weapons and live in difficult conditions if we often meet with Americans to build trust and they promise us to end the war and not to invade us?”
Kim said he will not repeat the “painful history of the Korean War,” adding that “concrete measures are necessary to stop any accidental military confrontation from happening.”
The U.S. and North Korean leaders are expected to hold a summit next month or in June in what would be the first meeting of a sitting American president and a leader from the North.
During a rally in Michigan on Saturday, Trump told the crowd he expects his historic meeting with Kim will take place “over the next three or four weeks” and that the location had been narrowed down to “two countries.”
CBS News, citing U.S. officials, said those two sites were Mongolia and Singapore. However, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said Saturday that the city-state has not received any “formal” request to host the meeting.
The North Korean leader also attempted to throw cold water on reports that the tunnels at the Punggye-ri site had collapsed, making it unusable.
On April 21, the North announced that it was halting operations at the site, as well as suspending all intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests.
“Some say that we are terminating facilities that are not functioning, but you will see that we have two more tunnels that are bigger than the existing ones and that they are in good condition,” Yoon quoted Kim as saying.
But despite the apparent move to show the outside world that he means what he says, the North has a history of inviting outsiders to witness the dismantling of its nuclear facilities.
In June 2008, international journalists live broadcast the demolishing of a cooling tower at the Nyongbyon reactor site, a year after the North reached a deal with the U.S. and four other nations to disable its nuclear facilities in exchange for a nearly $400 million aid package.
But that deal, reached during the so-called six-party talks, eventually collapsed after Pyongyang refused to accept U.S.-proposed verification methods.
In their joint declaration released after Friday’s summit, Kim and Moon also agreed to work toward a formal end to the Korean War by the end of this year. The conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, which was signed by the U.S.-led United Nations Command, Chinese forces and North Korea. But because Seoul is not a signatory, it is not technically possible for the two Koreas to announce an end to it, observers have said.
Also Sunday, as part of cooperative measures, Yoon said the North will bring forward by 30 minutes its standard time, putting it in line with the South. The North moved it back 30 minutes in 2015 to create its own time zone.
“I feel sad to see that there are two clocks hung on the wall of the Peace House, one for Seoul time and the other for Pyongyang time,” Kim was quoted as saying during his summit with Moon. “Since it is us who changed the time standard, we will return to the original one.”
North Korea explained the decision at the time as an effort to remove the legacy of the “wicked Japanese imperialists.” Local time in South Korea and Japan is the same — nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. It was set during Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.