The U.S. is demanding that international experts are allowed to inspect North Korea's nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, which is about to be shut down.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised during last month's summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to shut down the test site and invited the international press.
The U.S. is now demanding the inclusion of experts among the audience after criticism that any shutdown in the absence of experts would be meaningless.
A White House official told Voice of America on condition of anonymity on Tuesday that the U.S. welcomes the shutdown but believes the process requires inspections and complete verification.
Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said, "A permanent and irreversible closure that can be inspected and fully accounted for is a key step in the denuclearization" of North Korea.
North Korea apparently started the process early this month. Buildings near the test site and rails used to transport equipment have been demolished.
The North has not invited officials from the UN Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. Suh Kune-yull at Seoul National University said, "Essential evidence of nuclear activities disappears once [the test site] is shut down and if the North is sincere about scrapping its nuclear weapons, it must allow inspectors to enter the site."
North Korea in a message to South Korea on Tuesday invited four South Korean print media reporters and four broadcast journalists to the shutdown ceremony. It seems the North is only inviting reporters from media outlets that are not overly critical of the regime.
Reporters from the U.S., China, the U.K. and Russia have also been invited.
When North Korea dismantled the cooling towers at its nuclear facility in Yongbyon in 2008, it invited South Korean broadcaster MBC, as well as CNN, China's CCTV and Japan's TBS. They were allowed to watch the destruction from about 1 km away.
Reporters will be given visas at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing and board a chartered plane to Wonsan, from where they will be taken to Punggye-ri by train after dropping off their belongings at the press center.
They will be allowed to send back photos and reports after returning to Wonsan, but there will be no live coverage. Reporters pay their own fare.
North Korea’s nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, in satellite images taken on April 20 (left) and on May 7. /Courtesy of 38 North