North Korea says it has suspended nuclear and missile testing

Image: Kim Jong Un
People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's speech, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on Jan. 3, 2018. Copyright Ahn Young-joon
By Phil Helsel and Stella Kim with NBC News World News
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North Korea has "reached the target stage, where the nation and people's safety is reliably secured," said the country's leader, Kim Jong Un.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced Friday evening that the country has suspended its nuclear program, does not plan any more nuclear or missile tests, and will shut down a nuclear test ground in the northern part of the country.

North Korea has "reached the target stage, where the nation and people's safety is reliably secured," Kim said. The next stage, he said, is building on efforts to denuclearize, "which is the peace-loving platform of our party."

The announcement, made by the state-run Korean Central News Agency around dawn Saturday local time, comes ahead of a planned meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump.

North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests, the most recent in September. The tests have sparked international condemnation, and late last year the United Nationsimposed punishing sanctions on the isolated country.

In the KCNA statement, Kim said, "Every process involved with nuclear development" has been carried out, and "the means of delivery also has been conducted scientifically, resulting in the completion of nuclear weaponization," according to an NBC translation.

Kim also said the country would halt nuclear tests, and stop test-firing midrange and ICBM missiles. "Accordingly, the northern nuclear test ground has ended its mission," he said.

The development could be seen as a concession from North Korea ahead of the planned meeting between Kim and Trump, which officials said might take place in June. Details are still being discussed.

Kim said, according to KCNA, that "no nuclear test and intermediate-range and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire are necessary for the DPRK now, given that the work for mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic rockets was finished," referring to the country's official name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Trump responded to North Korea's announcement on Twitter, saying, "This is very good news for North Korea and the World — big progress! Look forward to our Summit."

Trump and Kim traded fiery rhetoric last year and in January over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Kim said in a New Year's Day address that "the entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat."

Trump responded on Twitter, saying: "Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

Trump said this week that he was looking forward to the meeting with Kim, but also warned that he could cancel the visit, or leave while it was in progress, if he thought the meeting would not be fruitful.

When North Korea tested a rocket in November thought by Western officials to have been an intercontinental ballistic missile, an expert told NBC News, "A viable ICBM capable of reaching the West Coast of the U.S. mainland is still a year away, though North Korea continues to progress."

Amid ramped-up tensions, Hawaii in January tested its emergency alert system, which resulted in a false alert about a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

South Korea's government also welcomed the North's announcement. "North Korea's decision is significant progress towards denuclearization on the Korean peninsula, which is the world's desire," said Yoon Young-chan, a presidential spokesman.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that "North Korea's announcement is forward motion that I'd like to welcome," according to Reuters, but he said the results matter.

"But what's important is that this motion leads to complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of [North Korea's] nuclear and missile programs," Abe said. "I want to take a close look at it."

Wendy Sherman, former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs and an MSNBC global affairs contributor, said on the network Friday night that "I think Kim Jong Un is playing his hand extremely well."

"He's starting out this negotiation by saying, 'I've made a concession, I've done an incredible thing. I have stopped testing of my weapons — because I don't need to anymore, by the way,'" she said.

Sherman also noted that the test site believed to have been used in the latest nuclear test is thought to have begun to collapse "and probably might not have been functional in the future anyway." But she also said "I think it is a good thing that dialogue is taking place."

Trump sent out a second tweet about North Korea's announcement Friday night. The president said in the tweet: "Progress being made for all!"

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