Closing North Korea nuclear test site an important step, United Nations chief says

US Prisoners from North Korea

US Prisoners from North Korea

The site was used for each of its six underground nuclear test explosions.

Analysts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies also concluded that North Korea was taking down buildings at the test site based on satellite imagery.

The analysis was made public before North Korea holds a ceremony for dismantling the Punggye-ri site between May 23 and May 25, depending on weather conditions, in the presence of worldwide media.

"Additionally, some carts seem to have been tipped over and/or disassembled, and several small sheds/outbuildings around the site had been removed", the authors of the post say.

The ventilation system for the tunnel system under Mount Mantap, which covers the testing facilities, also was apparently being broken down, the report added.

Images showed preparatory work for the destruction ceremony had also begun, including a newly positioned foundation among the waste piles believed to have been built for the invited journalists.

According to the report, many key operational support buildings have been razed since their last analysis.

They will then go by train to the nuclear site, then return on May 26 or May 27, the South Korean ministry said in a statement, citing a North Korean notice.

Dialogue brokered by South Korea has seen US-North Korea relations go from trading personal insults and threats of war previous year to a summit between Kim and Trump which will be held in Singapore on 12 June. After a half dozen tests over a period of more than a decade, some experts believe that Pyongyang is far enough along in its nuclear weapons development that it no longer has to detonate bombs underground to move its program along.

Announcing the decision last month, Kim, while portraying the move as a friendly gesture by North Korea towards the USA and South Korea, also said the site was not necessary anymore because the nuclear weapons had been already been developed and no further tests were necessary, indicating that it was a credible nuclear power. "This would be a preliminary step toward complete denuclearization", Moon said during a meeting with his aides, according to his office.

"We hope North Korea will seize the moment and take the bold steps necessary to lead North Korea to a peaceful and prosperous future". But some experts still doubt how committed Kim is to taking serious disarmament steps because his country was close to achieving its goal of possessing nuclear missiles targeting the mainland USA after decades of struggle. This could satisfy Trump but undermine the alliance between Washington and Seoul.

One particular worry is that if North Korea does not destroy its knowledge on nuclear weaponry, it could carry out research in secret and resume a nuclear weapons programme at short notice enabling the country to sell the data to other nations or terrorist groups.

They also agreed to stop all hostile acts over "land, sea and air" and to resume family reunions on August 15.

Meanwhile, the two Koreas were set to hold a high-level meeting Wednesday to discuss setting up military and Red Cross talks aimed at reducing border tension and restarting reunions between families separated by the Korean War.

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