The announcement by Kim Jong Un came less than a week before his planned meeting with the president of South Korea.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, said early Saturday that his country no longer needed to test nuclear weapons or long-range missiles and would close a nuclear-test site.
“The nuclear test site has done its job,” Kim said in an announcement carried by North Korea’s state media.
Kim’s announcement came just days before a scheduled meeting with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea; Kim is also planning to meet with President Donald Trump soon. It was the second time in days that he made what appeared to be a significant concession to the United States but in reality cemented the status quo. North Korea already had stopped testing its weapons.
Kim made no mention in the latest announcement of dismantling the nuclear weapons and long-range missiles North Korea has already built. On the contrary, he suggested he was going to keep them.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
- Pregnant Florida woman pushes labor aside to cast vote
- Boarded-up windows and increased security: Retailers brace for the election VIEW
- Man wins $2M after mistakenly buying extra lottery ticket
- 200-pound tortoise is back home after escaping Alabama pen
Still, Trump welcomed what Kim said. “North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site,” the president said in a Twitter message. “This is very good news for North Korea and the World — big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”
Despite Trump’s enthusiasm, U.S. officials have watched Kim with a mix of satisfaction and wariness.
Kim’s move could be tactical — putting the United States on the defensive in advance of talks on its nuclear arsenal. By extending an olive branch, U.S. officials said, North Korea is putting pressure on the United States to accept a deal before Kim agrees to give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Kim could also be trying to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea, since Moon has put great emphasis on ending more than six decades of military conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
On Thursday, Kim made a similar gesture, dropping his objections to joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, and saying the North would no longer insist on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula. But Trump administration officials privately dismissed the offer as a capitulation, saying removal of the troops was never on the table.
In a statement after a meeting of the Central Committee of his ruling Workers’ Party on Friday, Kim said his country required no further nuclear and long-range missile tests because it had achieved a nuclear deterrent. It was now time to focus on rebuilding the economy, he said.
“From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the Korean Central News Agency said, quoting Kim.
It also said the North would “shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s northern side to guarantee transparency in suspending nuclear tests.”
To officials and analysts in South Korea, Kim’s decision to shut down his country’s only known nuclear-test site, in Punggye-ri in northeastern North Korea, and his moratorium on long-range missile tests are some of the “trust-building steps” they have hoped Kim would take to help improve the mood for dialogue in Washington.
Kim spent last year conducting a series of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, raising tensions and a risk of war with the United States. But he has initiated a dramatic about-face since January, with a sequence of diplomatic maneuvers, including a summit meeting with President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing last month in his first trip abroad as leader, and his invitations to Moon and Trump for summit talks.
Analysts in the region are divided over Kim’s motives. Some argue that Kim just wanted to use negotiations to buy time and ease international sanctions, never intending to abandon his nuclear weapons. Others say Kim would eventually give up his nuclear arsenal if he were provided with the right incentives, such as security guarantees like a peace treaty and normalized ties with the U.S., and the economic aid he needs to rebuild his economy.
His latest announcement came one day after North and South Korea installed what officials said was the first hotline between their top leaders, another sign of improving relations on the divided Korean Peninsula. Moon was expected to use the hotline, which was installed in his office, to talk with Kim before they meet on the Korean border next week. But no date has been set for their first call.
The two Koreas have run a telephone hotline at the truce village of Panmunjom — the venue for the inter-Korean summit — for years. Duty officers from both sides man their telephones at Panmunjom daily in case one side calls the other. The line has been cut off at times when bilateral relations have soured, but communications there have been restored.
But the two countries have never run a direct hotline linking their top leaders’ offices, officials said.
The hotline telephones were installed on Moon’s desk in Seoul, the South’s capital, and in the State Affairs Commission in Pyongyang, the North’s capital.
When Moon’s special envoys met with Kim in Pyongyang last month, the two Koreas agreed to install the hotline and arrange for Kim and Moon to use the phone before their meeting. In the same meeting, Kim said he was willing to negotiate with the United States about abandoning his country’s nuclear weapons.
Trump recently sent CIA Director Mike Pompeo to meet with Kim to lay the groundwork for their meeting, which will be the first meeting between the two nations.
South Korean officials hope the direct hotline will improve communications between the top leaders and pave the way for improved ties between the two Koreas. The hotline could also be used to avert unintended armed clashes between the sides, they said.
“Now, if working-level talks are deadlocked and if our officials act like arrogant blockheads, President Moon can just call me directly and the problem will be promptly solved,” Kim was quoted as telling the visiting South Korean envoys last month.
On Friday, aides to Moon and Kim officially opened the line and checked the connection for about four minutes, said Youn Kun-young, director for the government situation room at Moon’s presidential Blue House.
During the line check, a South Korean and a North Korean caller briefly discussed the weather, according to Moon’s office.
“The connection was very good,” Youn said. “It was as if talking to a neighbor right next door.”