- North Korea has announced that it plans to stop conducting nuclear and missile tests, according to the country’s state-run news media.
- The suspension is expected to begin on April 21.
- North and South Korea are set to hold diplomatic talks on April 27.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly announced his country will stop conducting nuclear and missile tests, the nation’s state-run news media reported early Saturday morning local time.
“From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” KCNA said on Friday, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap News.
“The North will shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear test,” Yonhap reported.
North Korea further claimed that a nuclear test center “will be discarded in order to ensure the transparency of the suspension of the nuclear test.”
The regime conducted its most recent nuclear test in September 2017. It's last known ICBM test occured in November the same year, according to a timeline compiled by the Arms Control Association.
While North Korea's statement could indicate a positive step toward lowering tensions on the Korean Peninsula, it falls short of saying it would scrap its existing missiles or nuclear weapons. Experts weighed in with some healthy skepticism about the latest development.
"They have reached a point in their development cycle/testing sequence that this is probably technologically true," MIT associate professor Vipin Narang wrote on Twitter. "In fact they told us in November already that they had reached completion of their nuclear deterrent."
"The precise language here is important," Narang continued. "Closing the testing site doesn't preclude atmospheric nuclear tests for example (or other sites). And missile tests could still be conducted under the guise of space launch vehicles," he said.
North Korea has made these types of pronouncements before
In 2008, North Korea signaled it would curb its nuclear program by televising the destruction of a water-cooling tower at a plutonium extraction facility, only to announce that it would "readjust and restart" in 2013.
The latest development comes just days before North and South Korean leaders are scheduled to meet for diplomatic talks on April 27.
South Korea's presidential office said the North's announcement signifies "meaningful progress" toward denuclearization, Reuters reported.
North Korea has made similar overtures and symbolic gestures ahead of the summit, including reestablishing a dedicated hotline between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim, and agreeing to meet with US President Donald Trump for separate discussions at a later date.
Trump praised the news and called it a sign of "big progress."
"North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site," Trump wrote on Twitter. "This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit."
The US president's secretary of state nominee, Mike Pompeo, made a secret trip to North Korea during Easter weekend to lay the groundwork for the meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un.
North Korea's announcement also follows a sharp message from Japan's defense minister on Thursday, in which he said that US-led coalition air strikes against Syria's regime was a "message" to North Korea.
"This is an action that was taken against weapons of mass destruction, and I think this gave a certain message to North Korea as well," defense minister Itsunori Onodera said.