Is North Korea serious about denuclearization? Even as the Kim regime sends out conflicting signals ahead of the planned summit with the US, the regime wants to put on a demonstration of their openness to the idea. Two dozen reporters got invited to witness the decommissioning of the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, arriving today in Wonsan to make the journey north to the facility later today.
CBS News is the only US media outlet invited to the spectacle, but the trip comes as North Korea rattles cages yet again:
About two dozen journalists from the U.S., U.K., China and Russia arrived in North Korea to witness the planned dismantling of a major nuclear test site in the country. CBS News is the only U.S. broadcast network in the group. @benstracy reports https://t.co/0GCXe9o1LD pic.twitter.com/DXvtCHPdad
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 22, 2018
The highly publicized dismantling of the plant, and the invites to foreign journalists to witness it, comes as North Korea lashes out at the U.S. and South Korea over long-scheduled joint military exercises, and at the U.S. for taking credit for the diplomatic breakthrough. Remarks by senior members of the Trump administration about how any theoretical denuclearization of North Korea could play out also angered the Kim regime last week.
A new North Korean state media commentary out Tuesday morning reads in part: “dialogue and saber-rattling can never go together” and will “chill the atmosphere” before the planned June 12 summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
“Dialogue and saber-rattling can never go together”? Talk about a bad case of projection. The Kim regime have mastered that technique for three generations, and they’re using it now in an obvious attempt to test Trump and South Korean president Moon Jae-in. They may be getting worried that it’s not as effective as it has been with previous world leaders.
At least so far, that is. Jae-in is meeting with Trump today to coordinate efforts for the summit and to deal with Kim’s own saber-rattling of late. The media tour indicates that the Kim regime still wants the outside world to reconsider their status, but not that the game playing has stopped. Despite recent thawing between Moon and Kim at the DMZ, South Korean journalists got booted from The Kim Show:
Observers will be watching the nuclear test site destruction ceremony closely for any clues to the North’s mood.
Pyongyang previously said South Korean journalists would be allowed to attend this week’s ceremony. But the North refused at the last minute to accept a list of South Korean journalists.
They may have had their invitations rescinded, but at least they got invited. NBC points out who’s missing from the ceremonial dismantling of Pyunggye-ri:
Technical experts were not invited, even though the United States has called for “a permanent and irreversible closure that can be inspected and fully accounted for.” South Korean reporters were initially also scheduled to participate but weren’t granted visas by the North. …
The North has already conducted six underground tests at the site — including its most powerful ever, last September — and Kim told ruling party leaders last month that further testing is unnecessary.
North Korea could build a new site if it decides it needs more testing or could dismantle the tunnels into Punggye-ri’s Mount Mantap in a reversible manner. Details of what will actually happen at the site are sparse, but Pyongyang’s apparent plan to show the closure of the site to journalists, not international nuclear inspectors, has been raised as a matter of concern.
In other words, it’s really nothing but a show for the media. Punggye-ri might not be able to provide much more than a show, anyway. Analysts believe that the facility under Mount Mantap has either partially or fully collapsed after its September hydrogen-bomb test, rendering it all but unusable. Recent activity around Punggye-ri suggests that Pyongyang has already begun salvaging what they can from the facility, which may be a good description of the media tour itself. If the facility is unusable, why not take advantage of the situation with a media event for a “decommissioning” — as long as no one’s on hand to note that it couldn’t be used any more anyway?
The question remains as to whether North Korea expected the summit with Trump to be nothing more than a show for their benefit. Mike Pompeo’s visit two weeks ago seems to have jolted them out of that strategy after telling Kim that the US will expect inspectors to get to work immediately, and not just at Punggye-ri, while nuclear weapons get sent to France for real decommissioning. Their moves since have likely been calculated to see just how badly the US needs the summit. They may have to find out the hard way that Trump needs it a lot less than North Korea does.