North Korea grants last-minute invitation to South Korean journalists to attend nuclear test site dismantling

Eight reporters from Seoul rushed in South Korean military plane to join other foreign journalists on trip to site

Adam Withnall
Asia Editor
Wednesday 23 May 2018 09:29 BST
Trump admits Singapore summit may be delayed

North Korea has provided last-minute permission for journalists from South Korea to attend the dismantling of a nuclear testing site, a small step forward in a rapprochement that had appeared to be stalling.

Eight reporters from Seoul were rushed in a South Korean military plane to join other foreign journalists in the North Korean port city of Wonsan.

From there, they will all be taken via a 12-hour train journey, several hours on a bus and then an hour-long hike to the Punggye-ri site, deep in the mountains of the country’s sparsely-populated north-east.

North Korea promised to shut down the facility there as part of an unexpected offer to end its nuclear programme, though the terms of any agreement remain unclear.

The foreign journalists have been waiting in Wonsan since they arrived there on Tuesday. They have been told to prepare for the train journey either on Wednesday or Thursday, weather permitting.

North Korea had earlier refused to grant entry visas to the South Korean journalists after Pyongyang cut off high-level contact with Seoul to protest joint US-South military exercises. The U-turn comes after South Korean president Moon Jae-in met with Donald Trump in Washington, and following talks on a newly reopened cross-border communication channel.

The group in Wonsan includes a TV crew from the Associated Press news wire service, as well as media from the US, UK, China and Russia.

The North's decision to close the Punggye-ri site comes after it was used in more than half a dozen major nuclear detonation tests, measured as artificial earthquakes by seismologists around the world.

Chinese geologists have previously suggested that the strain of these explosions may have left the site close to collapse, raising questions about the true value of an offer to shut it down now.

Nonetheless, closing the site has generally been seen as a welcome gesture from Kim Jong-un. By inviting foreign media, the North appears to be hoping that dramatic images of explosions at tunnel entrances will be broadcast around the world. Pyongyang has not, however, invited international nuclear inspectors along - a decision which analysts say limits the exercise’s value as a serious concession.

It marks the latest stage of what has been a tumultuous journey towards an unprecedented summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump - no sitting US president has ever held talks with a North Korean leader before.

Last week, North Korea threatened to pull out of the Singapore summit on 12 June after John Bolton, Mr Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, suggested Kim Jong-un would be offered the “Libyan model” of denuclearisation.

Mr Trump said on Tuesday there was a “substantial chance” the summit would not take place. South Korea hopes the North can be brought back to the table once joint military exercises - dubbed “Max Thunder” - finish on Friday.

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