Yesterday (May 24) the rogue regime appeared to destroy its only known nuclear testing site, Punggye-ri, in three explosions witnessed by invited members of the foreign press. Just hours later, Donald Trump called off his much anticipated June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un. In an emotional break-up letter, Trump didn’t mention the demolition of the site, but cited the North’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” as reasons for scrapping the plan.
North Korea’s grand gesture to dismantle its nuclear site is now a metaphor for the fate of the Trump-Kim summit.
The coincidence comes as the US and North Korea showed greater discrepancies in their approaches on how to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in the past few weeks. Trump administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton and vice president Mike Pence, have called on North Korea to follow the “Libya model”—which the North did not take to kindly given how a US-backed invasion later killed Muammar Qaddafi—by giving up its nuclear program upfront. In a fiery rebuttal, North Korea blasted Pence as a “political dummy” and threatened the US with a nuclear strike. The provocative remarks also overshadowed the self-described “peace-loving” country’s gesture to release three American citizens earlier this month who had been held in the country.
Experts have said that the demolition is a largely symbolic move that won’t affect North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. In addition, it’s unclear whether the explosions rendered the tunnels at the testing site unusable, or only caused limited damage. No international inspectors were invited to witness the demolition, and journalists at the scene had their radiation-measuring equipment confiscated, according to CNN.
A satellite image showing North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test facility on May 23, 2018. (Maxar company via Reuters)
Journalists film one of the tunnels of Punggye-ri before it is blown up. (News1/Pool via Reuters)
A North Korean official talks about the dismantling process prior to the detonation of explosives. (EPA-EFE/News 1)
A North Korean soldier stands guard in front of a tunnel of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. (News1/Pool via Reuters)
A tunnel of Punggye-ri is seen before it is blown up. (News1/Pool via Reuters)
Journalists look around one of the tunnels of Punggye-ri. (News1/Pool via Reuters)
A command post of Punggye-ri is blown up during the dismantlement process. (News1/Pool via Reuters)
A tunnel and an observatory of Punggye-ri being dismantled. (News1/Pool via Reuters)
North Korean officials watch the dismantlement process of Punggye-ri. (News1/Pool via Reuters)
A North Korean official points a pile of stones after a tunnel was blown up. (News1/Pool via Reuters)
Journalists and North Korean officials look around the site where the second tunnel and an observatory of the test site were blown up. (News1/Pool via Reuters)