SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Wednesday allowed South Korean journalists to join the small group of foreign media in the country to witness the dismantling of its nuclear test site this week, Seoul officials said.
North Korea had earlier refused to grant entry visas to the South Korean journalists, raising worries about the prospect for recently improving ties. Their exclusion followed Pyongyang cutting off high-level contact with Seoul to protest joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that it calls an invasion rehearsal.
The dismantling of the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where all of its six nuclear bomb test explosions occurred, is expected to happen Thursday or Friday depending on weather.
Seoul’sUnification Ministry said North Korea accepted the list of eight South Koreans to attend via a cross-border communication channel on Wednesday morning.
A special South Korean government flight was to take the journalists to North Korea later Wednesday. The other journalists from the United States, the U.K, China and Russia had arrived Tuesday.
When North Korea announced earlier this month it would dismantle the Punggy-ri site, it said it would invite foreign media outlets from five countries including South Korea to observe the event. But the country had until Wednesday morning not responded.
The South Korean journalists were left in Beijing and eventually returned to Seoul as the North refused to grant them visas. South Korea’s government expressed regret over the decision, but said it still hopes the North’s dismantling of the site proceeds as planned and proves to be a genuine step toward denuclearization.
It was unclear why the North changed course and decided to let South Korean journalists in the country. The development came hours after President Donald Trump met South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington seeking to keep the highly anticipated U.S. summit with North Korea on track.
The summit, planned for Singapore on June 12, could offer a historic chance for peace on the Korean Peninsula. But there has been increasing pessimism about the meeting after North Korea scrapped the inter-Korean talks and threatened to do the same for the Kim-Trump summit in protest of the South Korea-U.S. military drills and what it calls Washington’s push for “one-sided” disarmament.
The North’s decision to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site has generally been seen as a welcome gesture by Kim to set a positive tone ahead of his summit with Trump.
But it is mainly just a gesture.
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.
The foreign journalists, including an Associated Press Television crew, who arrived in the North on Tuesday, were to stay at a hotel in this port city on North Korea’s east coast before traveling by train to the site, which is in the northeastern part of the country.
This article provided by NewsEdge.