North Korea Demolishes Its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site : Parallels Journalists observed as North Korea blew up tunnels it uses for nuclear testing. But experts say it was mostly for show, and closing the site will have little impact on the nation's capabilities.
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North Korea Demolishes Its Nuclear Test Site In A 'Huge Explosion'

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North Korea Demolishes Its Nuclear Test Site In A 'Huge Explosion'

North Korea Demolishes Its Nuclear Test Site In A 'Huge Explosion'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

North Korea is making a public show of moving towards denuclearization ahead of a planned summit with the U.S. The regime invited a small group of foreign reporters to witness the demolition of its nuclear test site in the northeast of the country. Those journalists are now reporting that they have witnessed a huge explosion there. NPR's Elise Hu is watching all this from her base in Seoul, South Korea.

Hey, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey, there.

MARTIN: What are you hearing from the reporters who are on this trip to North Korea?

HU: A correspondent from the British broadcaster Sky News says that reporters hiked high into the mountains and watched the detonation from about 500 meters away from Punggye-ri. That's the site of North Korea's six underground nuclear tests that have happened, most recently in September of last year. This reporter says North Koreans counted down. And then there was a huge explosion. Dust came at them. The heat came at them. And it was extremely loud, blew an observation tower into, quote, "smithereens."

So far, though, there's no pictures or video of this event. We do know that reporters had to travel about 18 hours to get high up into the mountains. It included a journey on trains - and the train actually had blinds drawn shut, so you couldn't look out - then a four-hour bus ride, then the hike into the mountains. So once they get back into a place where there's a connection, we are expecting to see some images and video.

MARTIN: All right. So we've got the North making this big statement today; the U.S. perceiving it, I imagine, as some kind of good faith effort before the summit is supposed to happen. But it's still not for sure. Right?

HU: Right. There is another flare-up because North Korea is particularly annoyed by the talk from the Trump administration about the Libya model. This is what White House national security adviser John Bolton has suggested, referring to how Libya gave up its nascent nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. But several years afterward, Libya's former leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed by mobs of rebels. President Trump himself publicly backed away from talk of a Libya model. But then this week, Vice President Pence went on Fox News and said things could end that way for Kim.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE STORY")

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: You know, as the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn't make a deal.

MARTHA MACCALLUM: Some people saw that as a threat.

PENCE: Well, I think it's more of a fact.

MARTIN: The vice president pointing to Libya is just strange because it's an example of a leader agreeing to give up his weapons - agreeing to the U.S. deal and still getting overthrown and murdered. So it's hard to understand how that would compel the North to comply.

HU: And that's an important point because North Korea's propaganda, especially last year when there was a lot more fiery rhetoric traded between the U.S. and North Korea, would often cite the Libya model as something that it was particularly irritated by and a reason for its deterrence, a reason for its program and not wanting to give up its program.

MARTIN: Right.

HU: But today, you know, this flare-up is about Pence's latest comments on Fox. And the vice foreign minister of North Korea put out a statement. He said, quote, "I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president." Then he said that if the U.S. continues to, you know, offend North Korea's goodwill, then he's going to suggest to Kim Jong Un to reconsider the summit. And that's why, again, there's talk of - or doubt about whether Singapore will happen on June 12. But so far, planning does continue on both sides. And a press accreditation center has been set up online. So - so far, it's still on.

MARTIN: We'll see. NPR's Elise Hu.

Thanks so much.

HU: You bet.

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