All weekend papers gave extensive coverage to the announcement made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a Workers’ Party meeting on Friday that the regime will no longer conduct nuclear tests or ballistic missile launches and will close its nuclear test facility in the northern part of the country. He reportedly declared the completion of his policy of concurrently pursuing economic reform and nuclear development, saying that the time has come to concentrate on economic reconstruction. Kim reportedly promised that the DPRK will not use or transfer its nuclear weapons unless nuclear provocations are directed toward it. However, since he did not mention what he will do with the nation’s existing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the dailies stressed that this cannot be construed as a statement of denuclearization.
The papers speculated that Pyongyang may try to use its existing nuclear and missile programs as a tool to win concessions from the U.S. and others in denuclearization negotiations that may follow the planned U.S.-North Korea summit. Mainichi wrote that Pyongyang is stepping up its peace overtures ahead of its planned summits with South Korea and the United States in an effort to prompt the international community to ease the existing sanctions. Asahi expressed concern about trilateral coordination between Japan, the U.S., and South Korea possibly being disrupted in the face of North Korea’s intensified diplomatic outreach. The papers also emphasized the importance of establishing rigorous mechanisms to verify Kim’s commitment to freeze his nation’s nuclear development.
With regard to North Korea’s peace overtures, all papers reported over the weekend on a Wall Street Journal article claiming that North Korea gave CIA Director Pompeo assurances that the planned U.S.-DPRK summit could be linked to the release of the three Americans currently detained there. Asahi separately reported that North Korea is ready to release them on the condition that President Trump visits Pyongyang for a summit with Kim, quoting a source connected to the regime as saying: “They could be freed anytime. They will be used as a political card for President Trump’s trip to North Korea.”