The eight South Korean journalists were excluded because Pyongyang has cut off high-level contact with Seoul to protest an exercise with the U.S. military — a protest the North’s media reiterated Tuesday, saying saber-rattling and dialogue don’t mix.
Such messages from the North and Trump’s statements he is ready to call it all off have heightened concerns about the success of the summit and prompted South Korean President Moon Jae-in to travel to Washington, where he was to meet with Trump in Washington later Tuesday.
The group that arrived by charter flight from Beijing is made up of media from the U.K., Russia, China and the United States. The journalists, including an Associated Press Television crew, will stay at a hotel in this port city on North Korea’s east coast before traveling by train to the site, which is in the northeastern part of the country.
The dismantling ceremony is expected to be held in the coming days, depending on the weather.
The North’s decision to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site has generally been seen as a welcome gesture by Kim Jong Un to set a positive tone ahead of his summit with Trump.
But it is mainly just a gesture.
The North has already conducted six underground tests at the site — including its most powerful ever, last September — and Kim told ruling party leaders last month that further testing is unnecessary.
North Korea could build a new site if it decides it needs more testing or could dismantle the tunnels into Punggye-ri’s Mount Mantap in a reversible manner. Details of what will actually happen at the site are sparse, but Pyongyang’s apparent plan to show the closure of the site to journalists, not international nuclear inspectors, has been raised as a matter of concern.
The North’s decision to exclude the South Korean media, however, was a more troubling sign of discord.
The South Koreans were expected to participate in the trip, but were left behind in Beijing after the North refused to grant them visas. South Korea’s government expressed regret over the decision, but said it still hopes the North’s dismantling of the site proceeds as planned and proves to be a genuine step toward denuclearization.