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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

North Korea demolishes test sight but brands Pence a 'dummy'

By demolishing the nuclear test site, North Korean fulfils pledge but rhetoric still escalating ahead of US meet

North Korea followed through on a pledge to blow up tunnels at its nuclear test site on Thursday, North Korean state media reported, as part of steps that have reduced tension on the Korean Peninsula and raised the possibility of a summit with the United States.

North Korea has conducted all six of its nuclear tests at the Punggye-ri site, which consists of tunnels dug beneath Mount Mantap in the northeast of the country.

A small group of international media selected by North Korea witnessed the demolition, which Pyongyang says is proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing.

"Dismantling the nuclear test ground was done in such a way as to make all the tunnels of the test ground collapse by explosion and completely close the tunnel entrances, and at the same time, explode some guard facilities and observation posts on the site," North Korea's state-run news agency KCNA reported.

The South Korean government welcomed the test site destruction by calling it "the first meaningful step to realize complete denuclearization which North Korea expressed through including the inter-Korean summit."

South Korean media described how North Korean authorities called out to media to ask if they were ready to film the first blast. They then counted down.

The North Korean offer to scrap the test site has been seen as a major concession in months of easing decades of tension with South Korea and the United States.

But the progress appears to have suffered a setback this month with North Korea raising doubts about an unprecedented June 12 summit in Singapore between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. President Donald Trump.

In a statement on Thursday, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui called U.S. Vice President Mike Pence a "political dummy" for comparing North Korea - a "nuclear weapons state" - to Libya, where Gaddafi gave up his unfinished nuclear development programme, only to be later killed by NATO-backed fighters.

"It is to be underlined, however, that in order not to follow in Libya's footstep, we paid a heavy price to build up our powerful and reliable strength that can defend ourselves and safeguard peace and security in the Korean peninsula and the region," Choe said.

She said the fate of the summit was entirely up to the United States.

Reuters