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North Korea prepares to dismantle nuclear site ahead of Trump-Kim summit

Undated photo from North Korean News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visiting a Korean People's Army unit, in an undisclosed location, North Korea. Photo released August 2017. (Balkis Press/Abaca Press/TNS)
May 23, 2018

North Korea is expected to begin dismantling its nuclear site between Wednesday and Friday this week, ahead of a planned summit between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in June.

The dismantling is weather-dependent, which is why there is a range for when it will formally be dismantled.

The event is taking place amid some tensions surrounding the upcoming Trump-Kim summit set for June 12 in Singapore, which North Korea last week threatened to cancel over U.S.-South Korean military drills. Trump said yesterday the summit might not happen in June, but there have been no official announcements about a date change or change of plans.

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

Eight South Korean journalists at one point were excluded after having been initially invited by North Korea; they were later re-invited last minute to join the small group of journalists.

North Korea uninvited the South Korean journalists after Pyongyang cut off contact with South Korea in protest of joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. earlier this month.

North Korea re-invited the journalists following South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s meeting with President Trump yesterday at the White House.

The trip by train was expected to take between 8 and 12 hours, followed by a 4-hour bus ride and finally a 1-hour hike to the nuclear site.

President Trump and Kim were scheduled to meet in Singapore on June 12 for a historic summit between the two countries.

But Trump this week cast doubt on the summit, saying the date could be pushed back or not happen at all.

“There’s a chance — there’s a very substantial chance — it won’t work out,” Trump said Tuesday at the White House.

“You never know about deals,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of deals. You never really know.”

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.

Seismologists at the University of Science and Technology of China said last month that there may have been an on-site collapse.

“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t just have journalists observing what’s going on,” said Joel Wit, director of 38 North. “What (the U.S.) should be doing in the summit is insisting on having experts come in to make sure the sites are dismantled properly.”