North Korea appears to destroy nuclear test site in front of world’s media

Demolition witnessed by foreign reporters but no independent scientists present

South Koreans watch a TV news broadcast on North Korea’s dismantling of its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, at Seoul Station on Thursday. Photograph:  Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

South Koreans watch a TV news broadcast on North Korea’s dismantling of its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, at Seoul Station on Thursday. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

 

North Korea has seemingly honoured its promise to destroy its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, part of a process that has helped reduce tensions in the region and had raised the prospect of a historic summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

North Korea has conducted all six of its nuclear tests at the Punggye-ri site in the northeast of the country. The site is made up of tunnels dug beneath Mount Mantap.

The demolition was witnessed by reporters from Britain, Russia, China and the US, but there were no independent scientists present.

“[We] expect it to serve as a chance for complete denuclearisation going forward,” Noh Kyu-duk, a spokesman for the South Korean ministry of foreign affairs told a briefing, quoted by the Yonhap news agency.

The dynamiting of the facility took place only hours before Mr Trump announced the cancellation of his planned summit with Mr Kim in Singapore on June 12th.

Doubts had, however, already been rraised about whether the North Koreans would attend the summit. Earlier on Thursday, North Korean vice foreign minister Choe Son-hui said Pyongyang would abandon the talks if Washington stuck to “unlawful and outrageous acts”.

“Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behaviour of the United States,” Ms Choe said, cited by North Korea’s KCNA agency.

“In case the US offends against our goodwill and clings to unlawful and outrageous acts, I will put forward a suggestion to our supreme leadership for reconsidering the DPRK-US summit,” she added.

DPRK is the abbreviation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

Last week another vice foreign minister, Kim Kye-gwan, also threatened to abandon the talks, saying Pyongyang would not be forced to give up its nuclear arsenal.

Trump warning

After a meeting between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Mr Trump in Washington this week, the US president had also suggested the summit with the North might not take place.

North Korea has been critical of the US trying to force “unilateral” denuclearisation. Ms Choe also took aim at US vice-president Mike Pence – echoing earlier comments by US national security adviser John Bolton – for mentioning Libya as a model for denuclearisation.

She said Libya had met a “tragic fate” and described his remarks as “unbridled and impudent”.

“As a person involved in the US affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the US vice-president,” she said.

She went on to say it had not been the North but the US that had initiated the requests for dialogue.

China criticism

Mr Trump seemed to hint that China’s president Xi Jinping, who has met Mr Kim twice in recent weeks, was to blame for the hardening of attitudes in Pyongyang.

He detected “a little change in attitude” from Mr Kim after his second meeting. “So I don’t like that,” he said.

While he insisted he wasn’t blaming anyone, he described Mr Xi as a “world-class poker player” and said: “There was a somewhat different attitude after that meeting, and I’m a little surprised.”

There was no reaction to Mr Trump’s remarks in China, although China said it hoped the planned summit between the US and North Korea would take place.

At a news briefing, a foreign ministry spokesman said both countries should cherish the opportunity and all parties should ensure that dialogue leads to a positive outcome.