U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed on Monday the planned closing of North Korea's nuclear test site as a positive move ahead of a summit between the top leaders of the United States and North Korea scheduled to take place next month.
Among the evidence cited by 38 North is that several key operational support buildings have been razed since its last analysis in April, along with the removal of several small sheds and outbuildings.
On Tuesday, South Korea's military said North Korea was moving ahead with plans to close its nuclear test site next week, an assessment backed by US researchers who say satellite images show the North has begun dismantling facilities at the site. The reporters will then be transported by a chartered train to the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri.
A senior North Korean defector on Monday said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's ultimate goal remains to become a nuclear-armed state.
The meeting was due to focus on plans to implement a declaration that emerged from an April 27 inter-Korea summit, including promises to formally end the Korean War and pursue "complete denuclearisation", the South's unification ministry, which handles ties with the North, said on Tuesday.
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced his country would dismantle its northeastern Punggye-ri nuclear-test facilities "to transparently guarantee the discontinuance of the nuclear test".
The first source knowledgeable on matters of the summit said, "Taking into consideration that there is an enormous number of known North Korean nuclear facilities, completing a [verification and inspection] process within six months to one year is unrealistic".
Annual military drills between Washington and Seoul have always been a major source of contention between the Koreas, and analysts have wondered whether their continuation would hurt the detente that, since an outreach by Kim in January, has replaced the insults and threats of war.
Announcing the decision last month, Kim, while portraying the move as a friendly gesture by North Korea towards the US 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.
Pyongyang said last week it would dismantle the site on May 23-25.
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The closure of the site is seen as a step toward the denuclearization of North Korea.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said it is monitoring the developments at Punggye-ri closely, deputy spokesman Lee Jin-woo said at a news conference.
During their meeting at a border truce village, Moon and Kim vaguely promised to work toward the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula, but made no references to verification or timetables.
The North's official KCNA news agency said the exercises between the USA and the South were a "provocation". Still, it's unclear whether North Korea has figured out how to prevent a warhead from burning up during re-entry from space.
North Korea's reference to such activity is created to communicate that even without underground testing, the country intends to maintain its nuclear arsenal and be a "responsible" steward of those weapons at the same time, said Andrea Berger, a senior analyst at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
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However no tunnel entrances appear to have been permanently closed and some main buildings are still intact, it added, saying the destruction of those facilities was likely to be carried out in front of the foreign media.