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North Korea Crisis

North Korea announces halt to nuclear tests and ICBM launches

Kim Jong Un also says test site will be closed

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un heads a party meeting in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on April 9.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- North Korea announced on Saturday that it will halt all nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as shutter a nuclear test site in its northern region.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency reported that the decisions were made at a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said at the meeting that the country had managed to "completely accomplish" the establishment of a national nuclear force in a short time frame, so the nuclear test site had ended its mission.

A document adopted at the meeting declared that (a) nuclear weaponization has been completed; (b) as of April 21, nuclear tests and ICBM launches will be halted and the nuclear test site disposed of; (c) North Korea will join the international community's efforts to abolish all nuclear tests; (d) it will never use nuclear weapons unless threatened and will not transfer nuclear technology; (e) it will focus all efforts on building a strong socialist economy and significantly improving the people's lives; and (f) actively cooperate and talk with neighboring countries and the international community.

Kim did not say he would abandon his existing nuclear arms -- making the announcement a far cry from the full denuclearization demanded by America and allies.

U.S. President Donald Trump quickly welcomed the move, tweeting: "North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World -- big progress! Look forward to our Summit."

The announcement stunned the world, but whether it proves a concrete step toward denuclearization remains to be seen. South Korean President Moon Jae-in will use next week's summit with Kim to gauge the North Korean leader's seriousness. The meeting will be followed by a historic summit between Kim and Trump, expected by early June.

The North-South summit, the first since 2007 and the third in history, will set the stage for Kim to demonstrate a commitment to denuclearizing. The two parties are exploring a joint statement, to possibly be called the Panmunjom declaration, that would officially express North Korea's desire to do so.

Kim dropped a hint during his visit to Chinese President Xi Jinping in March, reportedly saying that "the issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved" if South Korea and the U.S. take "progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace."

The North Korean leader then met this month with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Trump's nominee for secretary of state. The American president later tweeted that the meeting went "very smoothly" and that "a good relationship was formed." He went on to imply a willingness on Kim's part to denuclearize.

North Korea has a history of breaking promises on denuclearization. Trump has threatened to abandon the talks if they are "not fruitful."

In 1992, Seoul and Pyongyang agreed on mutual nonaggression. Then-South Korean President Kim Young-sam proposed in 1996 four-party talks with China and the U.S. to establish peace, but got little in the way of results.

The 2007 summit saw the two Koreas pledge to build a permanent peace regime. But then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and his policy of rapprochement gave way to Lee Myung-bak's conservative administration, and progress stalled.

Following North Korea's latest announcement, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said in Washington: "It is meaningless for Japan unless North Korea halts its short- and medium-range missiles. I am not satisfied at all."

South Korea's presidential office welcomed North Korea's decision saying "North Korea's decision is meaningful progress for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which the world wishes for," in a statement.

"It will create a very positive environment for the success of the upcoming inter-Korean and North-U.S. summits." 

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