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UN chief welcomes North Korean plan to close nuclear site

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria, on May 14, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has hailed North Korea’s move to close its nuclear test site as an important step toward peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“I would like to welcome that and to say that the irreversible closure of the site will be an important confidence-building measure that will contribute to further efforts towards sustainable peace and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Guterres said at a press conference in the Austrian capital Vienna on Monday.

Pyongyang has announced that it will dismantle Punggye-ri test site by the end of May, just before a scheduled meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12.

“And I look forward to this positive momentum being consolidated at the summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea,” Guterres told reporters.

Pyongyang initially announced last month that it would decommission Punggye-ri, where it is believed to have carried out all six of its nuclear tests, following a thaw in ties with the South Korea and Washington.

The closure is expected to take place between May 23 and 25. The official Korean Central News Agency said the move involves collapsing all the site’s tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances, and removing all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts.

In a tweet on Saturday, Trump praised North Korea for showing willingness to scrap Punggye-ri nuclear test site, saying that such a measure would be "a very smart and gracious gesture."

North Korea has had controversial military nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which have so far drawn harsh sanctions from the US and the UN.

On April 21, and in the midst of diplomacy with Seoul, Kim said he would be suspending the North’s nuclear and missile tests, and shut down a nuclear test site to pursue economic growth and peace on the Korean Peninsula, a move that attracted global praise.

In late April, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in a historic summit at the demarcation line and signed a joint declaration expressing their interest in the common goal of denuclearization.

Washington and Pyongyang have no diplomatic relations. The US has imposed many rounds of sanctions on North Korea, has substantial military presence near the country, and numerously threatened to invade it.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula were running high in 2017. Trump’s threats last year prompted North Korea to carry out its most powerful nuclear test to date and launch intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Trump and Kim had repeatedly traded insults and threats of military attacks that raised fears of a war between Pyongyang and Washington until last month when the North Korean leader agreed to meet with the US president.

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