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North Korea dismantles nuclear testing site in series of explosions, reports say

A photo released by KCNA news agency on March 12, 2013, shows North Korea leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Wolnae-do Defence Detachment on the western front line. (KCNA/Xinhua/Zuma Press/MCT/TNS)
May 24, 2018

International journalists, including some from the United States, witnessed explosions on Thursday as North Korea blew up what it claims are tunnels for its former nuclear testing site.

North Korean announced in April that it was halting its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and that it would also close down its nuclear test center.

A small number of international journalists, including U.S, Chinese and U.K. reporters, were invited to cover the dismantling of the nuclear site this week.

North Korea’s foreign ministry announced it would close the Punggye-ri nuclear site, “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.”

Punggye-ri is the site of all six North Korean nuclear tests. The most recent test in Sept. 2017 was North Korea’s most powerful, as it was several times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Nuclear experts are not being allowed permission to inspect the site or find out more about what kind of nuclear tests North Korea was conducting at the site.

There is speculation that the closing of the site is just for show because the nuclear site is already unusable.

The act comes amid some tensions ahead of the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

North Korea again threatened to cancel the upcoming June 12 summit with President Trump and Kim Jong Un if the United States keeps up “evil acts.”

Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui issued a statement that was released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on what is Thursday morning there. The statement indicated the summit could be postponed or even possibly canceled, according to the Washington Post.

Fox News reported that South Korean state media said North Korea was threatening to cancel the summit if the U.S. continues “unlawful and outrageous acts.”

“As a person involved in U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president,” Choe said, referring to statements Vice President Mike Pence made comparing North Korea to Libya.

“We will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us. Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision … of the U.S.,” Choe said.

Choe was previously in charge of North Korean relations with the U.S.

President Trump earlier this week said the U.S.-North Korea summit could end up taking place later than expected.

There’s a “substantial chance” the summit won’t happen in June, Trump said, and that it “could happen later.”

Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday to discuss the summit, which has been somewhat up in the air after North Korea last week threatened to cancel it.

“If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later,” Trump said of the summit, while hosting Moon.

The President said the summit “may not work out for June 12,” which could suggest a potential delay.

It could also mean the summit could be canceled without being immediately rescheduled.

The Trump-Kim summit is technically slated for June 12 in Singapore.

North Korea last week threatened to cancel the much-anticipated summit with the United States, and it already cancelled high-level meetings with South Korea, because South Korea and the U.S. conducted military exercises, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. North Korea views such military drills as practice for invasion of its country.

South Korea asked not to participate in the military drills, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, adding that the U.S. has not commented publicly on South Korea’s decision at this time.

The U.S. cancelled a planned military exercise with B-52 bombers and South Korean planes last week over South Korea’s worries that the exercise could jeopardize the upcoming summit with President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump Administration and military officials had said the military exercises were going to proceed as planned.

South Korean news agency Yonhap had reported that the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the Max Thunder drills between the U.S. and South Korean air forces “are a rehearsal for invasion of the North and a provocation amid warming inter-Korean ties.”

North Korean state media KCNA had released the following statement:

“This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula. The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.”

North Korean state media KCNA recently reported on a press release from the North Korean regime that officials have scheduled a ceremony to dismantle the country’s nuclear site on May 23, and they are inviting international press to attend in a rare opening up of the regime unlike the world has ever seen before.

This development comes days after North Korea released three American detainees to Secretary of State Pompeo on his second visit to the isolated regime in weeks, and President Trump announcing that the highly anticipated summit with Kim Jong Un will be held in Singapore on June 12.