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North Korea Follows Through on Kim’s Pledge to Destroy Nuclear-Test Site

Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip after a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in this undated photo released March 15, 2016. (KCNA via Reuters)

North Korea demolished its nuclear-testing site Thursday, following through on an April pledge by Kim Jong-un that came amid renewed relations between the South and North.

Roughly two-dozen journalists from five nations witnessed the explosive demolition at the Punggye-ri nuclear-test site, though no experts, investigators, or South Korean media were permitted to attend.

“The nuclear test and the intercontinental-ballistic-missile test will be discontinued,” Kim said on April 20, according to state media. “North Korea’s nuclear-test center will be discarded in order to ensure the transparency of the suspension of the nuclear test.”

The pledge came after a historic summit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in that produced a joint promise to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, cease cross-border propaganda operations, and officially end the 60-year-old Korean War.

The North maintains that it no longer needs the test site because it has completed its nuclear development. But the gesture has been widely interpreted as a show of good faith made amid a series of conciliatory gestures, including the release of three American hostages held in North Korea earlier this month.

The lack of experts present at the demolition obscured its overall impact on North Korean capabilities, but the Associated Press, which had reporters on the ground, suggested that the demolition could likely be reversed if the Kim regime wanted to begin testing missiles at the site again.

The Punggye-ri site has seen six nuclear tests since 2006, the most recent of which took place in September and featured a two-stage thermonuclear bomb vastly more powerful than anything previously tested by North Korea.

The Thursday demolition comes ahead of President Trump’s June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore, which was placed in jeopardy last week after North Korean officials preemptively declared they would not surrender their nuclear capability in exchange for economic concessions.

The White House has maintained that preparations for the meeting continue, while Trump said Tuesday that the meeting may take place at a later date or possibly not at all.

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