North Korea said it has already begun dismantling the Punggye-ri nuclear test site ahead of the original schedule of May 23~25, disregarding the calls of the international community that dismantlement should be done in the presence of outside experts. The 38 North, a website devoted to analysis about North Korea, said based on the commercial satellite imagery on May 7, “Some of the rails for the mining carts, which had led from the tunnels to their respective spoil piles, have apparently been removed.” If North Korea dismantles all of the tunnels and closes up the site, scientific analysis that can reveal the truth of its past six nuclear tests will become impossible.
Considering such concerns, a White House official pointed out that dismantlement of nuclear test sites is major process of denuclearization that should include full and complete inspection by international inspectors. But without mentioning any plans to invite inspectors, North Korea Tuesday invited four reporters each from South Korean wire news and broadcasting companies for the event to dismantle the nuclear site in Punggye-ri. There are concerns that the reporters would only be allowed to report what the North wants them to. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly said to Chinese President Xi Jinping in his second meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Dalian, China that the United States is acting like it is a victor. The remark by the North Korean leader implies that the North may not be cooperative with outside intervention such as verification and inspection unlike taking the initiative in making announcements and holding events of its liking.
Free and complete verification and inspection are the two pillars of denuclearization along with the removal of nuclear weapons and dismantlement of nuclear facilities. North Korea promised denuclearization in the 2005 denuclearization agreement but did not to implement by not agreeing to sampling at nuclear sites. It is known that North Korea has uranium enrichment facilities in Yongbyon, Hagap, Taechon, Pakchon and Mt. Chonma. Shutting down of these facilities should also be done transparently during and after the close-down. Unless the North allows inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to have access to the sites and data freely and guarantees inspection, complete denuclearization would only be considered an empty rhetoric.
The high-level talks between South and North Korea, which was proposed by the North Tuesday, will be held Wednesday at Panmunjom. North Korea’s delegation includes two figures from economic departments, such as vice railroad minister and chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. It is doubtful if the North is more interested in other issues than denuclearization. To be sure, North Korea would be rewarded if denuclearization process is completed. But the focus now should be on making sure denuclearization is done in a complete and transparent manner. Nuclear facilities and data should be open transparently during and after the denuclearization process. Relevant parties should also put in place institutional measures so that the North cannot interfere with verification at any phase of the denuclearization process.