Kim Jong Un’s supposed concession of inviting inspectors to a defunct nuclear testing site has been met with the equivalent of an eye roll from many experts.
“This is almost them reselling the same car to the Americans,” said Andrea Berger, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “We’re not inspecting a new action or a new facility. They already dismantled the site.”
The testing site, Punggye-ri, was closed six months ago because it was no longer needed by North Korea. Some of the tunnels in the mountain complex may have collapsed, rendering them unusable. North Korea invited inspectors to witness to site’s demolition in April, only to retract that and allow only journalists to attend. Extending the same offer to the Americans six months later, Berger said, amounts to an old concession dressed up as a new breakthrough.
“Chairman Kim invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm that it has been irreversibly dismantled,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
Some feel that Kim and his officials are instead trying to buy time so they can make progress on other fronts, such as building economic ties and even declaring a long-awaited peace with South Korea, as well as increasing their international standing.
Inviting inspectors to an old testing site is an example of this calculus, according to Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT. “Kim has mastered the art of milking a single cosmetic concession for months to burn clock,” he wrote on Twitter.
James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, called the invitation to Punggye-ri “a joke” and “pure PR.”