North Korea says it no longer needs nuclear tests
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North Korea will immediately suspend nuclear and missile tests, scrap its nuclear test site and instead pursue economic growth and peace, state media said on Saturday ahead of planned summits with South Korea and the United States.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said his country no longer needed to conduct nuclear tests or intercontinental ballistic missile tests because it had completed its goal of developing nuclear weapons, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
Pyongyang added that to create an "international environment favourable" for its economy, it would "facilitate close contact and active dialogue" with neighbouring countries and the international community.
It was the first time Kim directly addressed his position on North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes ahead of planned summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in next week and with US President Donald Trump in late May or early June.
The European Union hailed the decision to halt nuclear tests and missile launches as "a positive, long sought-after step".
The declaration shows "full respect for its (Pyongyang’s) international obligations and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions", EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
China said the move would help ease tensions and vowed to help Pyongyang on the diplomatic front. "China will support North Korea ... (to engage in) dialogue and consultation with the relevant parties," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement.
The Russian foreign ministry also said it "welcomes" the declaration and called on the US and Pyongyang to work together.
Kim staked security on nuclear weapons
The pledge to halt the development of nuclear weapons, initiated by his grandfather and continued by his father, would mean a significant reversal for the young, third-generation leader, now 34, who has staked his security on his nuclear
arsenal and spent years celebrating such weapons as an integral part of his regime’s legitimacy and power.
A testing freeze and commitment to close a test site alone would fall short of Washington's demand that Pyongyang completely dismantle all of its nuclear weapons and missiles.
But announcing the concessions now, rather than during summit meetings, shows Kim is serious about denuclearisation talks, experts say.
"The northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK will be dismantled to transparently guarantee the discontinuance of the nuclear test," KCNA said after Kim convened a plenary session of the Central Committee of the ruling Worker's Party on Friday.
The North's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The Pyunggye-ri site in northern North Korea is its only known nuclear test site, where all of its six underground tests were conducted, including the last, its largest-ever detonation, in September.
"We will concentrate all efforts on building a powerful socialist economy and markedly improving the standard of people's living through the mobilisation of all human and material resources of the country," KCNA said.
Trump welcomes statement
Trump welcomed the statement and said he looked forward to a summit with Kim.
"North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests [sic] and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World [sic] - big progress! Look forward to our Summit [sic]," Trump said on Twitter.
"Progress being made for all!" he said in a later tweet.
South Korea said the North's decision signified "meaningful" progress toward denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and would create favourable conditions for successful meetings with it and the United States.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he welcomed North Korea's statement but it must lead to verifiable denuclearisation.
"This announcement is forward motion that I'd like to welcome," Abe told reporters. "But what's important is that this leads to complete, verifiable denuclearisation. I want to emphasise this."
The United States, Japan and South Korea have historically been the main targets of North Korea's anger.
"We’re all looking for evidence that Kim is really serious about negotiations, and announcements like this certainly suggest he is, and that he is trying to make clear to the world that he is," said David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)