Hmm: North Korea already dismantling its nuke-testing facility?

Sketchy reporting on this so far even a few hours out from this tweet, but hugely interesting if true — although perhaps not unexpected. CBS’s sources within the US intel community tell them that North Korea has begun dismantling their nuclear testing facility at Punggye-ri. If true, it might mean that they’re serious about ending their nuclear program … or that the facility is already useless:

Presumably US intelligence has developed this information from either reliable human intelligence, which is difficult to get in the prison camp north of the 38th Parallel, or from real-time satellite surveillance, which is much easier. So maybe it’s on the level, but it certainly seems odd. Kim Jong-un and his father spent billions and earned the wrath of the international community to build up nuclear leverage just for the moment when negotiations began over the final status of the Korean Peninsula.  Now that they’re on the cusp of making use of their nuclear program, they’re unilaterally dismantling their key site for future weapons development short of a test of a warhead on a missile?

If it is on the level, it tends to corroborate what studies out of China have concluded — that the Kim regime has rendered Punggye-ri unusable.  The sudden reduction in Mount Mantap’s elevation likely came from the collapse of the tunnels from which these cables are being removed, and the site has been polluted by radiation from the hydrogen-bomb test carried out last fall. That doesn’t disarm Kim of his existing nuclear devices, but it would cripple their program from developing any new designs and perhaps even production of existing designs, depending on how much of that took place in Punggye-ri.

Even so, why not wait for the negotiations to begin? Or have they already? Yonhap quotes a Seoul official as saying that Kim has already agreed to denuclearize, and that he also has conceded on inspections at Punggye-ri and other sites:

President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim agreed during their summit last week to seek “complete” denuclearization, but details about how the North will dismantle its nuclear program have not been revealed.

“It is nonsense to seek a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without inspection and verification,” a ranking government official told reporters. “The North’s leader appears to adequately understand (that).”

“The North has said that it will close down the nuclear test site with international experts and reporters attending. I think this shows that Pyongyang has a strong will for (allowing) an inspection as well,” he added.

The North offered to close down its nuclear test site Punggye-ri in May and will make public its dismantlement by inviting security experts and journalists to the North, President Moon’s chief press secretary Yoon Young-chan told reporters Sunday.

If this all sounds a little too good to be true, count yourself in the same club as Mike Pompeo. At his ceremonial swearing-in today, the new Secretary of State pledged to keep the pressure on Pyongyang while negotiations moved forward. Better no deal than a bad deal, Pompeo declared with Donald Trump and Mike Pence watching approvingly:

Pompeo, who secretly met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the Easter weekend, said North Korea must commit to immediately dismantling its weapons program, adding that efforts to denuclearize Pyongyang were still in the “beginning stages” and the outcomes “unknown.”

“We are committed to the permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program and to do so without delay,” he said as Trump prepares for a historic meeting with Kim to convince Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear missile program.

Listing other major challenges, he said the United States was deciding on next steps of a “flawed” nuclear deal with Iran and confronting Moscow’s “acts of aggression”.

“My team and I will be unrelenting in confronting those threats,” said Pompeo. “We will deploy tough diplomacy when necessary to put the interest of the American people first,” he added.

Maybe Moon will have wrapped up the deal before Trump gets a chance to sit down with Kim, and maybe that’s the point too. But that would be even more curious, given the Kim’s regime longstanding desire to be seen as equal to the US in national prominence. Why settle this on a regional stage when you can have the highest possible profile for the real settlement? Is Kim’s hand really that weak after all?

Addendum: Are they using up all their leverage?

Three Americans detained in North Korea may have been moved ahead of a possible release, to coincide with a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, sources have said.

The United States has been demanding the North free Kim Hak-song, Kim Sang-duk and Kim Dong-chul. …

Sources have told the AFP that the United States and North Korea were close to reaching a deal on the detained nationals’ release.

‘They are staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Pyongyang,’ Choi Sung-ryong, a South Korean activist with contacts in the North, said.


Jazz Shaw Jul 06, 2022 9:01 AM ET