In a major announcement on Saturday morning local time ahead of his meeting with President Trump, Kim Jong Un reportedly announced that North Korea will stop nuclear tests and missile launches. State media reported that, "From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles."
This announcement comes less than a week before North and South Korea are expected to meet, on April 27. Committee members of the Worker’s Party of Korea, the ruling party, had reportedly held a meeting the day before. Kim, who has been Supreme Leader of North Korea since 2011 after his father died, is slated to meet South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, at Panmunjom, a village by the border between both nations, next week. It will be the first time Kim and Moon meet.
North Korea's announcement that it will suspend nuclear tests and missile launches is a huge gesture; Kim had previously vowed to do so while talks between the North and South were underway. The isolated country's nuclear capabilities had deepened the wedge between North and South Korea that started after the countries split following World War II, and caused decades of friction between North Korea and the U.S.
In recent months, however, North and South Korea inched closer to diplomacy, beginning with the North's participation in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in Februrary.
The apparent improvement in relations between the Koreas has also brought the hermit kingdom slightly closer to diplomacy with the U.S. government. Kim also offered to meet with President Trump, and while no specific date has been set for the meeting, Trump readily accepted the offer. They're expected to talk sometime in May, and many have floated Mongolia as a location for the meeting.
Shortly after reports about the announcement went live, President Trump tweeted, "North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit." Many others cheered the announcement and lauded Trump's diplomatic efforts.
Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, told The Washington Post that suspending nuclear testing is a big deal. "North Korea’s pledge to close down its nuclear weapons testing site is a very significant pledge toward denuclearization," Kimball said.
But not everyone was quick to applaud North Korea for its move to stop nuclear testing. Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, tweeted after the announcement:
They have reached a point in their development cycle/testing sequence that this is probably technologically true. In fact they told us in November already that they had reached completion of their nuclear deterrent.
Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at Federation of American Scientists who has written about North Korea's nuclear weapons before, also noted on Twitter that North Korea is closing its nuclear test site because it "feels it has conducted sufficient testing and is happy with its weapons. That's important context here."
Suspending nuclear tests and missile launches, and closing a nuclear test site, however, does not amount to denuclearization. North Korea still possesses nuclear weapons, some that it has claimed can someday reach the U.S.
While it's unclear if North Korea intends to remove its nuclear weapons completely, this announcement does signal, at the very least, that Kim is intent on forging ahead with diplomatic efforts. Discussing denuclearization, perhaps, could come somewhere down the line.