Seoul (AFP) – US Chief of Diplomacy Mike Pompeo announced Monday that international inspectors would be allowed to visit the nuclear test site dismantled by Pyongyang, after meeting with Kim Jong Un, who he said produced “significant progress “on denuclearization.
The US secretary of state met the North Korean leader Sunday in the North Korean capital. The aim was to revive denuclearization talks that had been skating since Kim’s historic summit with US President Donald Trump in June in Singapore.
“President Kim said he was ready to allow them to return to the Punggye-ri nuclear test site,” said Pompeo.
The North dismantled this underground site in May, the scene of its six nuclear tests, but has not yet allowed access to international observers to verify that it was effectively rendered inoperative.
The site included several tunnels dug under a 2,000-meter-high granite mountain in northern Hamqyong, a northeastern province bordering China.
The inspectors will be able to visit it as soon as the two parties have agreed on the “logistics” issues, Pompeo added to the press, before flying to Beijing, the last stop of an Asian tour which also led him in Japan and South Korea.
In Singapore, Kim reiterated a vague North Korean commitment to the denuclearization of the peninsula. But the United States militates for the maintenance of the sanctions as long as the North will not proceed to its “final denuclearization and entirely verified”.
– “long process” –
However, Mr Pompeo did not say anything about what could be American “corresponding measures”.
The denuclearization of North Korea is a “long process,” he said. “We have made significant progress”.
A top US diplomat also said the two countries were “close enough” to set a date and venue for the second Kim / Trump summit.
Pompeo and Kim had a “good meeting”, tweeted Donald Trump, before adding: “I look forward to seeing President Kim in the near future”.
It was the fourth time that Mr. Pompeo went to Pyongyang.
On this occasion, Kim “expressed his gratitude to President Trump for his sincere efforts” to implement the Singapore agreement, said the official North Korean news agency KCNA.
“Kim Jong Un appreciated the positive development of the situation on the Korean Peninsula (…) (and) explained in detail the proposals to resolve the issue of denuclearization,” KCNA said.
North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun hit the headlines, posting eight photos of the two men shaking hands with smiles.
– “New order” –
In a previous visit to North Korea in July, Mr. Pompeo had already reported “progress”. This did not prevent Pyongyang from condemning the “gangster methods” of Americans accused of demanding unilateral disarmament without making concessions for a few hours after his departure.
Last month, the North Korean Foreign Minister announced at the UN that it was “out of the question” for his country to disarm first as long as the sanctions remained in force.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, principal architect of the spectacular relaxation underway on the peninsula, said on Monday that future meetings between Kim and the Chinese and Russian presidents were in the pipeline.
“A new order is being born on the Korean peninsula,” Moon said.
Pyongyang is fast on the path of diplomacy and analysts believe that Washington may be quickly forced to drop the ballast on sanctions.
“North Korea is strengthening its ties with China and Russia so that the United States maintaining the sanctions regime is on a tight line,” said Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at the Sejong Institute.
“President Trump is very close to losing control.”
Moscow and Beijing, traditional allies of the North, have called for a relaxation of pressure on Pyongyang before the UN Security Council, saying that measures towards “gradual disarmament must precede a reduction of sanctions.”