North Korea Suspends Nuclear Missile Trials, Plans to Close Test Site

The country says it's making the move to shift its national focus and improve its economy ■ Trump commends decision in tweet, says 'look forward to our summit' ■ China welcomes the country's nuke suspension

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attending a ruling party meeting in the capital, Pyongyang on April 21, 2018; photograph released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency.
AFP

North Korea says it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site. The North's official Korean Central News Agency said the suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests went into effect Saturday.

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The country says it's making the move to shift its national focus and improve its economy.

U.S. President Donald Trump commended the announcement on Twitter, saying, "This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit." The meeting between Kim and Trump is anticipated in May or June.

People watch a TV screen showing file footage of U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea
Ahn Young-joon/AP

The announcements came days before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a border truce village for a rare summit aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.

Moon's office has also responded to the announcement, saying North Korea's decision to close its nuclear test site and suspend missile tests is a "meaningful progress" for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

"It will also contribute to creating a very positive environment for the success of the upcoming South-North summit and North-United States summit," a spokesman for the president's office, Yoon Young-chan, said in a statement.  

On Saturday, China, North Korea's main ally, welcomed Pyongyang's decision to suspend its nuclear and missile tests.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang as saying Beijing wishes for North Korea to continue to achieve results in the development of its economy and improving the living standards of its people.

He said China will support North Korea through dialogue and consultations with "relevant parties" to resolve their concerns and improve relations.

People watch a TV showing a file footage of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Ahn Young-joon/AP

A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry has praised the decision, referring to the move as "a chance for the de-escalation of tensions," according to state news agency Interfax.

Senior diplomat Konstantin Kosachev welcomed the move on Facebook, but said that North Korea would have to stick to the nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty and the United States would have to give clear signals of detente.

"A long term commitment from Kim Jung Un to halt all nuclear tests and ICBM launches would be a positive step. We hope this indicates an effort to negotiate in good faith," the British government said in a statement released on Saturday.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement on the upcoming summit that the EU would support "high-level initiatives [that] can continue to build confidence and bring about additional, concrete and positive outcomes," the DPA news agency reported on Saturday.

Mogherini added that despite the flurry of diplomatic activity, sanctions against the North Korean regime would be upheld.

The North's decisions were made in a meeting of the ruling party's full Central Committee which had convened to discuss a "new stage" of policies.

The Korean Workers' Party's Central Committee declared it a "great victory" in the country's official "byungjin" policy line of simultaneously pursuing economic and nuclear development.

The committee unanimously adopted a resolution that called for concentrating national efforts to achieve a strong socialist economy and "groundbreaking improvements in people's lives."

"To secure transparency on the suspension of nuclear tests, we will close the republic's northern nuclear test site," the party's resolution said.

The KCNA quoted Kim as saying during the meeting: "Nuclear development has proceeded scientifically and in due order and the development of the delivery strike means also proceeded scientifically and verified the completion of nuclear weapons."

"We no longer need any nuclear test or test launches of intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles and because of this the northern nuclear test site has finished its mission."

North Korea's abrupt diplomatic outreach in recent months came after a flurry of weapons tests, including the underground detonation of a possible thermonuclear warhead and three launches of developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to strike the U.S. mainland.

Some analysts see Kim as entering the upcoming negotiations from a position of strength after having declared his nuclear force as complete in November. South Korean and U.S. officials have said Kim is likely trying to save his broken economy from heavy sanctions.

Seoul says Kim has expressed genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons. But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of "denuclearization" that bears no resemblance to the American definition, vowing to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its troops from the peninsula.

DPA contributed to the report.