TOKYO – North Korea is expected to explode its nuclear testing site on Thursday afternoon, in a gesture designed to show that it is still willing to embark on a diplomatic trip with the United States despite the recent protests
The North Korean regime led a group of foreign journalists to the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site in the mountainous northeast of the country to document the closure of the site. However, it did not allow any experts, which made it difficult to badess exactly what they had done.
Still, badysts said this was a step in the right direction, especially in light of threats from both Washington and Pyongyang to cancel a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un scheduled to take place in Singapore on next month.
This will be highly symbolic and a first diplomatic step, "said Frank Pabian, a former expert in nuclear non-proliferation and satellite imagery at Los Alamos National Laboratory." But in itself, it will not change anything about Korea's nuclear capabilities. North Korea. "
North Korea has indicated that it no longer needs to test its nuclear devices because it has mastered the technology, a claim that is not lacking in credibility.
After a historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae- In late last month, Kim agreed to take a series of steps to show that he was serious about dealing with the United States, the declared enemy of the North 19659007] This included a plan to work towards "the complete denuclearization of the Peninsula" Korean ", a phrase that Trump interpreted as Kim wanted to hand over his weapons, while most badysts said it was a code for a prolonged process in that both sides would have to make concessions.  [ North Korea says it depends on the US UU if they meet at a table or in a 'nuclear confrontation'? ]
While the definition of "denuclearization" is disputed "Continues, bo Trump and an important badistant of Kim have raised the possibility of canceling the summit, scheduled for June 12. The North Korean regime has particularly opposed to the repeated references of the Trump government to Libya, which renounced its nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions.The Libyan leader, Moammar Gaddafi, was overthrown and brutally badbadinated a few years later.
Even so, North Korea seems to have fulfilled his promise to dismantle the site where his six nuclear tests were conducted.
A total of 30 journalists, all of them from television networks, with the exception of four print reporters from South Korea, were taken to the test site. during the night of Wednesday.
They left Wonsan, on the east coast of North Korea, around 6 pm local time, for a 300-mile trip that journalists said that im It would involve a 12-hour train ride and then four hours on a bus, followed by an hour or two of hiking through the mountains. That would have put them on the test site at lunchtime on Thursday.
Satellite images showed observation platforms installed on the site's portals, as well as in the command center and the main management area.
But journalists will not have any means of sending images until they make the trip back to Wonsan, probably arriving on Friday.
The restrictions were severe, with a reporter from Russia Today reporting on the way to the site that the window closes the train was locked closed so they could not see. However, they were served a 10-course banquet on the train.
The journalists' team was closely reviewed, and UK Sky News reported that the dosimeters had been confiscated, so they could not measure how much, if any, the radiation was leaking from the site.
[ The definition of North Korea's denuclearization & # 39; it is very different from Trump's ]
The site of the nuclear test is about 10 miles north of the village of Punggye-ri and consists of a series of tunnels under the mountains, entered through of four portals.
The east portal, through which North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, in 2006, has been abandoned for more than a decade and is no longer accessible by road.
All of the following five tests took place through the north portal. The last, conducted in September, was widely considered a hydrogen explosion. It caused an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 on the site and had a yield of up to 250 kilotons. In comparison, the US nuclear bomb detonated on Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of approximately 15 kilotons of energy.
Since that test, there have been suggestions that Mount Mantap may be suffering from "tired mountain syndrome", and many experts say that the tunnels of the north portal are now unusable.
However, the west and south portals have never been used and were still considered viable for future tests.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Korea announced on May 12 that it would close the site by collapsing all the tunnels through explosions, completely blocking the portals and eliminating all surrounding buildings, including research institutes and guard posts.
"In parallel with the dismantling of the nuclear test field, the guards and investigators will be removed and the surrounding area of the test field will be completely closed," the ministry said in a statement.
[ Something is happening at the nuclear testing site in North Korea. Maybe it's really closing. ]
Satellite images had shown that the buildings surrounding the portals were going down before the site was closed.
Although the presence of nuclear experts was not allowed, Pabian, who now writes for the 38 North specialized website, said that officials from organizations such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization could still test if they ever I granted them access to the site.
The verdict is still on whether North Korea is seriously prepared to discuss denuclearization with the United States, with many badysts doubting that Kim would relinquish the weapons he considers vital for his legitimacy and to defend himself from external threats.
After Thursday's outburst, in which Pyongyang called Vice President Pence "a political maniacal" for comparing North Korea to Libya, badysts sent Twitter sarcastic comments that underscored how far apart the countries remained.
"Yes. North Korea is definitely ready to abandon its nuclear weapons" James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote wryly.
But one thing would be clear if North Korea dismantled the Punggyeri site on Thursday: it has finished with its nuclear test.
The North Korean state media described the nuclear test last September as "perfect success" and said they had reached their "ultimate goal of completing the state nuclear force", a sign that they had done all the tests that needed.
Then, last month as the inter-Korean summit approached, Kim told a meeting of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang that no further tests would be needed because the nuclear and missile programs had been completed.
"The mission of the nuclear test field in the north has come to an end," Kim told his top cadres, according to a state media report.
By acquiring this "powerful treasured sword to defend peace," the North Koreans could now "enjoy the most dignified and happiest life in the world," he said.
Trump suggests that the summit of North Korea in Singapore could fail
Who is to blame for the hiccups in North Korea talks? The South Koreans say Bolton.
South Korea asks: Who is this mysterious man with Pompeo and Kim?
Today's coverage of postal correspondents around the world
Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news