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North Korea Suspends Nuclear and Long-Range Missile Tests


FILE - A man watches a TV screen showing a file footage of North Korea's missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 29, 2017.

North Korea says it has suspended nuclear tests and plans to close its nuclear test site.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday the country “will never use nuclear weapons nor transfer nuclear weapons or nuclear technology under any circumstances unless there are nuclear threats and nuclear provocation against the DPRK.”

The North’s military is also halting long-range missile tests and said the suspensions went into effect on Saturday.

The North said the government is making the moves to shift its national focus and to improve the economy.

Summit days away

The development comes less than a week before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a summit to try to end the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula. The United States and North Korea are planning a separate summit, although no date has been set.

Following the announcement, President Trump tweeted the announcement “is very good news for North Korea and the World” and said he is looking forward to the summit.

Later Friday, the president tweeted: “Progress being made for all!!”

South Korea’s presidential office said the decision by North Korea is a “meaningful progress” for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“It will also contribute to creating a very positive environment for the success of the upcoming South-North summit and North-United States summit,” a spokesman for the president’s office, Yoon Young-chan, said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was a bit cautious about embracing the North Korean announcement.

“We welcome it as a forward-looking move,” Abe said, “but an important thing is whether the move will lead to the complete abandonment of missile and nuclear developments in a verifiable and irreversible manner.”

Frederica Mogherini, the European Union's top diplomat, said Saturday North Korea's announcement of stopping nuclear tests is a positive step. She called for an "irreversible denuclearization" of North Korea.

China, North Korea's primary ally, applauded Pyongyang's decision. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing hopes North Korea maintains its campaign to strengthen its economy and improve living standards, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

He added China would support North Korea through talks with "relevant parties" to resolve the country's concerns and improve relations.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed optimism Friday about North Korea's decision, saying "the path is open for the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.''

Britain said it hopes North Korea's announcement means that the country will make an effort to negotiate in good faith.

FILE - Then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill speaks at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.
FILE - Then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill speaks at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.

Christopher Hill, a retired U.S. career diplomat who led the U.S. delegation to six-party talks aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis, told VOA's Korea Service: "I think it is important to react with little caution. I think it seems positive, but we should be a little cautious."

On Friday, the two Koreas opened a hotline between their leaders, ahead of the planned summit in the Demilitarized Zone on April 27. The hotline is the latest step in an intense diplomatic activity on and around the Korean peninsula, initiated with the Winter Olympics in the South.

Japanese alliance

Also Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met at the Pentagon with Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera for talks that included North Korea. Mattis said the possible talks between the United States and North Korea will not change the strong relationship the United States has with Japan.

"This is a mutually beneficial alliance between two democratic nations that trust each other. Nothing is going to shake that."

WATCH: Mattis on Strength of US-Japan Relationship

Mattis: Nothing Will Shake US-Japan Relationship
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Onodera said the “iron clad U.S.-Japan alliance” must work with the international community to make North Korea abandon all weapons of mass destruction “in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner.”

Onodera said later Japan “cant’ be satisfied” because Pyongyang did not mention giving up short-and medium-range ballistic missiles. He said Japan would continue its policy of placing pressure on Pyongyang to give up its “weapons of mass destruction, nuclear arms and missiles.”

WATCH: Onodera: Pressure on North Korea Must Be Maintained

Onodera: Pressure on North Korea Must Be Maintained
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North Korea has defended its nuclear development and missile tests, in defiance of the U.N. Security Council mandates, as a deterrent to what it sees as a threat from the United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea. But it has not launched a missile test since late November, or conducted a nuclear test since last September.

Trump struck an optimistic note earlier this week about the possibility of a denuclearized North Korea.

“As I’ve said before, there is a bright path available to North Korea when it achieves denuclearization in a complete and verifiable and irreversible way,” Trump said.

But he cautioned that if his talks with Kim did not go the way he hopes, he was willing to walk away.

VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.