Exactly what that would entail has remained unclear, but North Korea has invited foreign media to witness the dismantling of its main nuclear test site later this month.
John Bolton recently said North Korea could follow a “Libya model” of verifiable denuclearization, but this alarms Pyongyang, which watched Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi give up his nuclear program only for him to be killed by Western-backed rebels a few years later.
Kim Kye-gwan’s statement, carried by North Korea’s state media, said that if the US “corners us and unilaterally demands we give up nuclear weapons we will no longer have an interest in talks” and “will have to reconsider” attending the June 12 summit in Singapore.
The official said North Korea did have “high hopes” but that it was “very unfortunate that the US is provoking us ahead of the summit by spitting out ludicrous statements”.
He is known to be highly respected in the North Korean leadership and has taken part in negotiations with the US before. There is very little chance Kim Kye-gwan;s comments were not personally endorsed by Kim Jong-un.
Hours before the announcement, in a sign of growing problems, Pyongyang has also pulled out of a meeting scheduled with South Korea on May 16 because of anger over the start of US-South Korean joint military drills.
Pyonyang had earlier said it would allow them to go ahead, but then called them “a provocative military ruckus” which was undermining its diplomatic efforts.
The sudden change in tone from North Korea is said to have taken US officials by surprise. Analysts said Pyongyang could be trying to strengthen its hand before talks.
The US state department said it was continuing to plan the Trump-Kim meeting, and President Trump is yet to comment.
President Moon Jae-in’s spokesman said that Kim Jong-un had stated he “would carry out the closing of the nuclear test site in May”.
Yoon Young-chan added that the North Korean leader had also said he “would soon invite experts of South Korea and the US to disclose the process to the international community with transparency”.
President Moon Jae-in’s office also said North Korea would change its time zone – currently half an hour different – to match that of South Korea.
North Korea has so far made no public comments on the issue.
Situated in mountainous terrain in the north-east, the Punggye-ri site is thought to be North Korea’s main nuclear facility.
The nuclear tests have taken place in a system of tunnels dug below Mount Mantap, near the Punggye-ri site.
Six nuclear tests have been carried out there since 2006.
After the last nuclear test, in September 2017, a series of aftershocks hit the site, which seismologists believe collapsed part of the mountain’s interior.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency Kim Jong-un made an apparent reference to these reports, saying: “Some say that we are terminating facilities that are not functioning, but you will see that they are in good condition.”
The information about the Punggye-ri site has been gathered mainly from satellite imagery and tracking the movement of equipment at the location.
North Korea claims that it has successfully tested a nuclear weapon that could be loaded onto a long-range missile.
Pyongyang said its sixth nuclear test was a “perfect success”, hours after seismologists had detected an earth tremor.
North Korea said it had tested a hydrogen bomb – a device many times more powerful than an atomic bomb.
Analysts say the claims should be treated with caution, but its nuclear capability is clearly advancing.
Pyonyang last carried out a nuclear test in September 2016. It has defied UN sanctions and international pressure to develop nuclear weapons and to test missiles which could potentially reach the mainland US.
According to South Korean officials, the latest test took place in Kilju County, where North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site is situated.
The “artificial quake” was 9.8 times more powerful than the tremor from North Korea’s fifth test, the state weather agency said.
It came hours after Pyongyang said it had miniaturized a hydrogen bomb for use on a long-range missile, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was pictured with what state media said was a new type of hydrogen bomb. State media said the device could be loaded on to a ballistic missile.
Initial reports from the US Geological Survey put the tremor at 5.6-magnitude with a depth of 6 miles but this was later upgraded to 6.3-magnitude at 0 miles. This would make it North Korea’s most powerful nuclear test to date.
Japan condemned the test and South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened emergency security council talks.
A series of recent missile tests has caused growing international unease.
In a report on September 3, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said Kim Jong-un had visited scientists at the nuclear weapons institute and “guided the work for nuclear weaponization”.
The report said: “The institute recently succeeded in making a more developed nuke.”
“He (Kim Jong-un) watched an H-bomb to be loaded into a new ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile),” it added.
The report carried pictures of Kim Jong-un inspecting the device. It described the weapon as “a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes”.
International experts say North Korea has made advances in its nuclear weapons capabilities but it is unclear if it has successfully miniaturized a nuclear weapon it can load on to a missile.
North Korea has previously claimed to have miniaturized a nuclear weapon but experts have cast doubt on this. There is also skepticism about North Korea’s claims to have developed a hydrogen bomb, which is more powerful than an atomic bomb.
Hydrogen bombs use fusion – the merging of atoms – to unleash huge amounts of energy, whereas atomic bombs use nuclear fission, or the splitting of atoms.
President Trump has said the US will “solve” the nuclear threat from North Korea, with or without China’s help.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Donald Trump said: “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.”
Pressed on whether he thought he could succeed alone, President Trump replied: “Totally.”
Donald Trump was speaking ahead of a scheduled visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.
“China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone,” he told the Financial Times.
Asked if he meant “one-on-one” unilateral action, Donald Trump said: “I don’t have to say any more.”
The president did not give any further details on what action he would take.
Donald Trump’s brief comments, published just days before the key meeting with Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on April 6, are the latest in a series of warnings over North Korea’s nuclear development.
There are fears that North Korea could eventually develop the ability to launch long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking the mainland US.
Analysts say China has maintained its support for Pyongyang as it fears a complete collapse of the North Korean regime could lead to Korean unification, with US soldiers based in a country with a land border with China.
It is thought that China is also concerned at the prospect of millions of North Korean refugees entering its borders.
In response, the US began rolling out a missile defense system in South Korea.
Speaking on the sidelines of China’s annual parliamentary meeting, Wang Yi said the Korean peninsula was like “two accelerating trains, coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way”.
“Are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?” he asked.
A mutual halt of military operations would be the first step towards easing tensions and reopening negotiations, he said.
Three of the North Korean missiles came down inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on Monday, prompting Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump to say the region had entered “a new stage of threat”.
In a unanimous statement, the UN Security Council earlier strongly condemned the launch, calling it a grave violation of North Korea’s international obligations, which risked destabilizing the region.
The Un Security Council, which will meet on March 8, also threatened to “take further significant measures” against North Korea, which could imply efforts to introduce a fresh round of sanctions.
The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) is designed to protect South Korea, and US troops based there, from North Korean missile attacks. The first elements of it were moved into place on March 7, hours after North Korea’s latest launch.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said his country will not use nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty is threatened, state media report.
North Korea first tested nuclear weapons in 2006, after withdrawing from an international treaty.
The secretive country has made repeated threats of nuclear strikes against South Korea and the US.
However, Kim Jong-un reportedly told the Workers’ Party Congress in Pyongyang that he is willing to normalize ties with previously hostile countries.
It appears Kim Jong-un tends to send mixed messages and movement observed at North Korea’s nuclear site is consistent with preparations for another nuclear test.
State media also quoted Kim Jong-un as saying there should be more talks with South Korea to build trust and understanding.
Kim Jong-un said North Korea would “faithfully fulfill its obligation for non-proliferation and strive for global denuclearization”.
The meeting is the first congress of North Korea’s ruling party since 1980.
The KCNA news agency reported Kim Jong-un as saying: “As a responsible nuclear weapons state, our Republic will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes.”
Kim Jong-un said the government would “improve and normalize the relations with those countries which respect the sovereignty of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and are friendly towards it, though they had been hostile toward it in the past”.
North Korea withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 2003 and started testing nuclear weapons three years later.
International sanctions on North Korea were tightened in March this year after it claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb and launched a missile into space.
The sanctions include export bans on materials used in nuclear and military production as well as restrictions on luxury goods and banking.