N. Korean official: Nuke-test site demolition may be possible on Thursday

May 23, 2018
South Korean reporters sit aboard a government transport plane about to leave for Wonsan, North Korea, on May 23, 2018 in this pool photo. (Yonhap)

South Korean reporters sit aboard a government transport plane about to leave for Wonsan, North Korea, on May 23, 2018 in this pool photo. (Yonhap)

(WONSAN/SEOUL, May 23 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) — A North Korean official said Wednesday that, weather permitting, the country will soon dismantle its nuclear test facilities.

“If the weather conditions are good tomorrow, (we) can do (the work),” the official told visiting South Korean journalists.

The eight reporters and members of television crews, selected for pool coverage of the Punggye-ri event, arrived in the North’s eastern city of Wonsan earlier in the day.

The North said in mid-May that it would close all of the underground tunnels and related facilities at the nuclear site in Kilju, North Hamgyong Province, by explosion between May 23-25.

Also invited are American, Chinese, Russian and British news outlets.

It has not yet announced the date or a detailed schedule of the planned dismantling.

The foreign visitors left a hotel in Wonsan to board a special train bound for Punggye-ri.

The distance between Wonsan and the Jaedok Station, adjacent to the venue, is known to be about 416 kilometers. Given the North’s railway conditions, the train will likely move at a speed of about 35 kph, according to observers here, meaning a 12-hour train journey for the international journalists.

Upon arrival at the station, the journalists are expected to use vehicles to reach the destination, approximately 21km away.

Earlier Wednesday, South Korea sent a government VCN-235 transport aircraft from a military airport just south of Seoul to Wonsan carrying the pool reporters — four from a newswire and four from a broadcaster.

Foreign reporters prepare to cover North Korea's nuclear test site dismantlement at a hotel in Wonsan on May 22, 2018, in this AP photo. (Yonhap)

Foreign reporters prepare to cover North Korea’s nuclear test site dismantlement at a hotel in Wonsan on May 22, 2018, in this AP photo. (Yonhap)

The jet took the direct route over the East Sea, which was also used by skiers who went to train at the Masikryong resort in January.

“(We) will do our best to convey all on-site situations fully, swiftly and precisely, as we are going there as South Korean media representatives to cover the first step of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” a pool reporter said just before departure.

In an about-face, the North accepted the list of the South Korean journalists Wednesday morning.

The move came hours after summit talks between President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington D.C., in which the two leaders agreed to keep the plan for the June 12 summit between the North and the U.S. on track.

South Korea welcomed the North’s decision to allow South Korean media to witness the dismantling of the Punggye-ri facilities.

“The government welcomes that our press corps has been allowed to participate in the event marking the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site,” ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters during a regular press briefing.

“We expect that this will serve as a starting point for accomplishing complete denuclearization as swiftly as possible through the U.S.-North Korea summit and talks at various channels,” he added.

The North had declined to accept the list of South Korean reporters for days without providing any reason or explanation, giving rise to speculation that the foot-dragging might have to do with somewhat cooled relations between the two Koreas after the North’s abrupt cancellation of inter-Korean talks scheduled for last week.

The North unilaterally postponed the high-level talks with the South meant to discuss follow-up measures to the April 27 inter-Korean summit, taking issue with ongoing joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

The South Korean government expressed regret over the decision, urging the North to return to talks as soon as possible, but the North ramped up its criticism, threatening that talks will not happen if Seoul and Washington continue their joint military drills.

The North has been reportedly making preparations to host a group of foreign journalists for the dismantling ceremony.

38 North, a U.S. website dedicated to monitoring developments in North Korea, earlier reported that satellite imagery shows that North Korea is preparing to build an observation stand for the dismantling of its nuclear test site.