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North Korea 'preparing to allow international inspectors to visit Punggye-ri nuclear test site'


North Korea 'preparing to allow international inspectors to visit Punggye-ri nuclear test site'North Korea is preparing to allow international inspectors into its Punggye-ri test site, the Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday, citing a South Korean politician. Pyongyang has stopped its nuclear and missile tests over the past year during a rapprochement with the United States and South Korea, and it blew up facilities at Punggye-ri in May in the presence of foreign journalists. However, its refusal to allow international experts to observe the destruction of the site, which has been the staging ground for all six of its nuclear tests, including its most powerful one – reportedly of an H-bomb – last September, drew criticism that its actions were for show and could be reversed. At a summit between the North and South’s leaders last month, Pyongyang finally agreed to allow foreign inspectors to observe a “permanent dismantlement” of key missile facilities, and to move towards closing its main Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for reciprocal US measures. News of the apparent latest gesture came from Kim Min-ki, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, who told reporters in Seoul that intelligence officials had observed what they believed to be preparations for possible inspections at Punggye-ri and the Sohae Satellite launching ground. The South’s National Intelligence Service observed North Koreans “conducting preparation and intelligence activities that seemed to be in preparation for foreign inspectors’ visit,” said Mr Kim, according to Reuters. No major movements were spotted at Yongbyon. The move to open up Punggye-ri to inspection, if confirmed, would be seen as a confidence-building measure ahead of a proposed second meeting between Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, and Donald Trump, the US president. The meeting is expected to take place early next year despite concerns in Washington that North Korea is dragging its feet over nuclear disarmament and frustration in Pyongyang that the US has not agreed to ease economic sanctions or an official end to the Korean War of 1950-53. Washington has repeatedly reminded its regional allies of the need to maintain “maximum pressure” on the North Korean regime to give up its nuclear weapons – a policy that appears to be increasingly at odds with a push from South Korean President Moon Jae-in towards closer economic ties. N Korea nuclear test site The US embassy in Seoul reportedly made the unusual move of contacting major South Korean conglomerates that sent representatives to Pyongyang with President Moon for his September summit with Kim Jong-un. “The U.S. Embassy in Seoul is known to have directly called key companies to discern the status of the cooperation projects discussed during their visit to the North,” a key official from the presidential Blue House told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday.  Executives from Samsung, Hyundai Motor, LG and SK were among 17 business representatives who accompanied President Moon on his three-day trip. North Korea is likely to depend on South Korean investment for its future economic development.  “It appears that the U.S. government, along with the objective of grasping the situation in regard to North Korea-related projects, is attempting to synchronise the speed between the South and the United States ahead of North-U.S. denuclearisation negotiations,” said the source. Teleconferences in late September between the US Treasury Department and seven South Korean banks over sanctions enforcement were also viewed as a sign that Washington is nervous that inter-Korean relations appears to be advancing faster than denuclearisation talks.