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Kim made decision to denuclearize, rebuild economy: source

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (AP)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a conscious decision to denuclearize in a bid to improve the country's relationship with the United States and boost economic development, a source close to Pyongyang's leadership has told the Mainichi Shimbn.

The decision to get rid of nuclear weapons, created after decades of development, came with Kim's realization that the arsenal is unusable but exacts a very high cost on North Korea's state coffers, as the country is forced to endure international sanctions, the source explained.

"Now the dear respected Marshal (Kim Jong Un) made the drastic decision to turn around the relationship with the United States and rebuild the economy," the source said. Kim is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12 to discuss nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim's about-face on nuclear development was perhaps behind a surprise remark from Ambassador Hang Tae Song of North Korea to the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva on May 15.

"The discontinuation of nuclear tests is an important process for global disarmament, and the DPRK (North Korea) will join the international desire and efforts for a total halt of nuclear tests," Hang was quoted as saying. This statement implied that Pyongyang is willing to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which prohibits signatories from conducting nuclear tests of any kind.

Even major nuclear powers such as the U.S. or China are not party to the treaty. The North Korean announcement to imply its possible participation in the international accord was widely construed by Western media as an indication of its willingness for denuclearization.

Nuclear nonproliferation experts, however, advise caution. They point out that the ambassador referred to only "disarmament" and did not state clearly that nuclear weapons would be eliminated.

North Korea is well known for its repeated failure to keep its word on nuclear disarmament. If Kim is truly determined to discard his meticulously constructed, extremely costly nuclear weapons, which are said to number between 15 and 60, he must assuage international distrust about his real intentions, according to the experts.

Many specialists are highly skeptical about North Korea's true intentions. Nuclear weapons are the country's only real leverage to win security guarantee from the U.S., which the Kim regime is eager to extract. A former senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear nonproliferation watchdog, commented, "It's really hard to believe that North Korea will throw away its nuclear arsenal in a short period of time."

Washington demands Pyongyang carry out a complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament (CVID), but even President Trump, who wanted a quick disarmament, now seems to understand the complexity of the process and has begun to show understanding of denuclearization in stages.

A potential plan circulated in expert circles is for North Korea to first stop nuclear and missile tests and freeze plutonium and uranium production. In return, the U.S. would recognize these moves as a "major outcome" and offer some form of reward. Pyongyang would then discard nuclear weapons when it judges security guarantee from the U.S. have been signed and sealed, experts said.

In any case, the IAEA is making all-out preparations for the suspension of nuclear facilities, inspections and removal of nuclear materials, and verification of the entire North Korean nuclear program, so that the agency can move ahead "all at once" when necessary, according to people familiar with the matter.

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