The United States has told North Korea that is must start shipping nuclear weapons, fissile material and some of its long-range missiles out of the country within a couple of months of the June summit between Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, and President Donald Trump, according to South Korean media.
The report by Yonhap News echoes comments by John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, who on Sunday reiterated that Pyongyang could expect no assistance or relaxation of sanctions until it fully dismantles its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Speaking on ABC News, Mr Bolton said, “I think the implementation of this decision means getting rid of all the nuclear weapons, dismantling them, taking them to Oak Ridge, Tennessee”.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a nuclear research and storage facility that already holds key components from Libya’s nuclear weapons programme.
Yonhap said Washington’s demand was delivered to North Korea as part of the preparatory talks ahead of the summit meeting in Singapore between Mr Kim and Mr Trump, with the US stating that sanctions will remain in place until the North complies.
Pyongyang’s reaction was not known, although there have been other reports that the regime is resisting requests that it destroy all its nuclear weapons data and send an estimated 10,000 nuclear scientists abroad.
Failing to destroy the accumulated knowledge would permit the North to carry out further research in secret and resume a nuclear weapons programme at short notice, analysts point out, while it would also enable the North to sell atomic data to other nations or terrorist groups.
North Korea has already offered to abolish its nuclear weapons capability and has invited foreign journalists to its Punggye-ri nuclear testing ground next week to observe the destruction of the site.
Washington’s insistence on further steps to denude the North of its nuclear capability suggest that the US is still unsure of just how honest and open Pyongyang is being, coupled with lingering concerns that inspectors may not be able to locate all the regime’s research facilities.
Mr Bolton and Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, both reinforced Washington’s message that North Korea could reap financial rewards if Kim Jong-un was willing to fully dismantle his nuclear weapons programme.
Mr Pompeo told Fox News that if a deal was reached between Mr Kim and President Trump at their summit in Singapore, that “private sector Americans” may be allowed to “help build out the energy grid that needs enormous amounts of electricity in North Korea”.
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Americans could also help with investment in infrastructure and agriculture to help feed the North Korean population, he added.
The secretary of state, who appears to be building a rapport with the North Korean leader after meeting him twice in just two months, said that Mr Kim is “paying attention to things the world is saying”, adding that he would likely be watching Fox News.
In a separate appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, Mr Pompeo also floated the possibility of “sanctions relief” as a further incentive, which jarred somewhat with Mr Bolton’s messaging on CNN that Pyongyang shouldn’t look for economic aid from the US.
However, Mr Bolton, with a reputation taking a hardline approach to North Korea, also struck a positive tone, commenting that the country’s prospects were “unbelievably strong if they’ll commit to denuclearisation.”
He added: “I think what the prospect for North Korea is to become a normal nation, to behave and interact with the rest of the world the way that South Korea does”.
Speaking later to ABC, he explained that President Trump was forgoing “months and months of preparation” for his June summit with Mr Kim because it would interfere with his innate ability to “size up” the North Korean leader.