US President Donald Trump hailed “big progress” as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to halt nuclear testing, a largely symbolic gesture that appeared aimed at softening the ground for talks between the two leaders.
Kim told a ruling party meeting in Pyongyang on Friday his regime would suspend tests of atomic bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles after achieving its goal of building a nuclear arsenal, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
While the moves mostly affirm the status quo — North Korea hasn’t conducted a major weapons test in almost five months — Kim’s remarks to a domestic audience could signal flexibility in upcoming talks with the U.S. and South Korea. He’s set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27 at a border village, possibly paving the way for an unprecedented summit with Trump in May or June.
Trump called Kim’s statement “very good news for North Korea and the World.” “Big progress!” Trump said in a tweet. “Look forward to our Summit.” Later, he noted that North Korea would “shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s Northern Side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests.” A spokesman for Moon called Kim’s moves a positive sign.
Although US and South Korean officials say Kim has expressed a willingness to discuss “denuclearisation,” North Korea’s media has steered clear of the term. Kim’s remarks made no commitment to give up the estimated 60 nuclear bombs and the unknown number of ICBMs he already has.
Two US officials who asked not to be identified said there was no reason not to believe Kim’s pledge was genuine. US pressure had changed the calculus for Kim, one official said.
North Korea’s arsenal represents the achievement of three generations of Kims and is so central to the regime that its status as a “nuclear state” is enshrined in the constitution.