North Korea preparing to shut down main nuclear test site

May 04, 2018, 08:12 am

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President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands after delivering Panmunjom Declaration during the inter-Korean summit on April 27./ Source: Joint Press Corps

By AsiaToday reporter Choi Tae-beom

North Korea has been spotted Thursday taking preliminary measures to shut down its Punggye-ri nuclear test site in public.

As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has pledged to close its nuclear testing facility this month in front of South Korean and US experts and journalists, people are paying attention to whether the North's nuclear disarmament will lead to real action beyond the declarative significance and bring spring of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

According to intelligence sources, there have been signs that have not been identified before on the third underground tunnel of Punggye-ri nuclear test site. The move is likely to be a follow-up measure for the inter-Korean summit, where North Korea agreed to shut down its main nuclear test site in public.

The third underground tunnel of Pyunggye-ri nuclear test site has been considered by South Korean and US military authorities to be technically prepared to conduct nuclear tests anytime. Closing this tunnel will show the North's genuine commitment to denuclearization. It will be the first visible step toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the key goal of the Panmunjom Declaration that the leaders of North and South Korea announced during their summit, and a tangible positive sign of the upcoming North Korea-US summit talks.

Pyunggye-ri nuclear test site is a symbolic place for North Korea's nuclear development. North Korea conducted a total of six nuclear tests at the site, from the first nuclear test in October 2006 to the sixth in September last year.

"We have identified the manpower and facilities for the closure of the entrance and found that the cables from the third underground tunnel have been removed," an intelligence official said. "We cannot reveal too much about detailed movements, but we are watching carefully because we believe there have been significant changes."

CBS reported Wednesday North Korea has started pulling cables from tunnels at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, citing US intelligence. The separation of the cables at its nuclear test site is believed to be "the first step towards shutting down the country's nuclear program," CBS said.

According to North Korea-US relations sources, North Korea revealed its intention during the pre-coordinating process for the US-North Korea summit that it would completely dismantle its nuclear weapons in the manner required by the United States.

The sources said that when CIA chief and US nuclear experts visited North Korea last month, North Korea apparently permitted US inspections of its nuclear weapons and even expressed its intention to dismantle its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Such outcome is expected to be included in an agreement between the leaders of North Korea and the United States after the summit.

In particular, North Korea is taking preemptive measures to improve relations with the United States by not only closing its nuclear testing site but also preparing to release US detainees. There is growing expectation that more outcome will be achieved at the North Korea-US summit as the North's such measures are seen as the achievements of under-the-table contact between the two countries.

#North Korea #nuclear test site #Punggye-ri #underground tunnel 
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