Sheetal Sukhija - Monday 14th May, 2018
PYONGYANG, North Korea - Over the past few months, a terrifying global threat emerging from North Korea’s swiftly accelerating nuclear program seemed to have been overridden by a move towards diplomacy and peace.
At the heart of the sudden, unexpected change in ties, not only between the two rival Koreas but also between North Korea and the U.S. - is the demand of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the end of the nuclear threat posed by the reclusive nation.
Over the years, as part of its intensified nuclear program, North Korea has boasted of possessing several dangerous weapons. More recently, the country claimed to have successfully tested its Intercontinental Ballistic missile capable of reaching any part of the world.
North Korea also boasts of short and midrange ballistic missiles, as well as possessing chemical and biological weapons stockpile.
Over the last one year, North Korea has specifically threatened the U.S. with its ICBM and other nuclear weapons.
In August last year, months after Donald Trump assumed office as the new U.S. President, amid a heated rhetoric between U.S. and the nuclear nation - North Korea threatened to launch a missile that would strike Guam.
In response, the U.S. deployed three nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers and 200 air personnel in the territory of Guam.
Now, after ending its successful summit with rival South Korea, during which leaders of the two nations pledged to formally end the Korean war and denuclearize the Korean peninsula - North Korea has offered to blow up its nuclear test site.
Inviting the world to watch, as it blows up its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, North Korea has now stated that it will hold a “ceremony” between May 23 and May 25 and foreign journalists have been invited to witness the “transparent” event.
However, citing past demonstrations where it carried out similar spectacles to show its commitment to deals it later reneged on, skeptics have said that Pyongyang may have ulterior motives for its announcement.
Reports pointed out that in June 2008, international broadcasters were allowed to air the demolishing of a cooling tower at the Nyongbyon reactor site.
The event took place 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.
However, that deal which was reached during the six-party talks, eventually collapsed after Pyongyang refused to accept U.S.-proposed verification methods.
On Saturday, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un revealed plans to shut down the nuclear test site, a vow he made during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae In last month.
At the time, Kim Jong Un had vowed to shutter the site and invite foreign experts and journalists to view the dismantling.
The North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, “Dismantlement of the nuclear test ground will be done in the following sequence — making all tunnels of the test ground collapse by explosion; completely blocking entries; removing all observation facilities, research institutes and structures of guard units on the ground.”
It added, “In parallel with dismantlement of the nuclear test ground, guards and researchers will be withdrawn and the surrounding area of the test ground be completely closed.”
The statement also pointed out that while the Foreign Ministry would invite local press, international media would be limited to journalists from China, Russia, South Korea, Britain and the United States, due to the testing ground’s “small space.”
Reports noted that media representatives from all other members of the now-defunct six-party talks on denuclearization and Britain would likely be in attendance, while Japanese media has not been invited.
North Korea’s announcement came days after the U.S. confirmed that the historic summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump will be held on June 12 in Singapore.
In response to Pyongyang’s announcement, Trump welcomed the "gracious gesture,” and tweeted, “North Korea has announced that they will dismantle Nuclear Test Site this month, ahead of the big Summit Meeting on June 12th. Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture!”
Despite analysts raising doubts over the announcement, South Korea, which has played the role of mediator to set up the meeting between Kim Jong Un and Trump, maintains that the North has genuine interest in relinquishing its nuclear weapons in return for economic benefits.
On Sunday, a spokesman for South Korea’s presidential office also welcomed the announcement, saying the move would help build trust ahead of the Trump-Kim summit.
Spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said that the North’s invitation of foreign journalists highlights that the isolated country will carry out the dismantling in a transparent manner.
He added, “We hope that the sound of dynamite blowing up the Punggye-ri tunnels will be a gun salute in a journey toward a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.”
Meanwhile, in a report on Sunday, South’s Yonhap news agency quoted Jo Seong-ryul, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service as saying, “The North seems to have excluded Japan deliberately. Japan has been trying to expand the agenda for denuclearization negotiations, and I think there is dissatisfaction with that.”
The report also quoted a senior South Korean government official as saying that the decision to exclude Japan was likely part of Pyongyang’s maneuvering to bring Tokyo to the negotiating table.
The official reportedly said, “I think it is related to the fact that official dialogue between the North and Japan has not yet been carried out.”
Analysts are worried that Kim Jong Un might never agree to fully relinquish the weapons he likely views as his only guarantee of survival.
Euan Graham, a former British diplomat who served in Pyongyang and who currently serves as the director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Australia was quoted as saying in a report, “The North Koreans probably have a high level of confidence in their basic nuclear design, having successfully tested a thermonuclear device last year. That was their sixth nuclear explosion — the same number as India has conducted. If they need to refine the warhead design further, they probably have the capability to go on testing at a subcritical level and using computer simulations, as have the established nuclear powers.”
Further, Adam Mount, a senior defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists has said, "Now that North Korea has accepted in principle that agreements should be verified, US negotiators should hold them to this standard for any subsequent agreement. It will make it more difficult for Kim Jong Un to deny inspections now that he has placed them on the table."
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