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South Korean Officials Say North Korea Has Pledged To Shut Down Its Main Nuclear Site

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to talk a bit more about one of the other major issues in Secretary Pompeo's portfolio, and that is the diplomatic situation between the U.S. and North Korea.

Just today, it came out that North Korean leaders say they would be willing to give up their nuclear weapons if the U.S. promises not to invade. North Korea would also let U.S. weapons experts and media members visit a nuclear testing site, which North Korea says it is shutting down. All of that is according to South Korean officials.

For more on this, we've called, once again, on Jean Lee. She reported for the AP from the Korean Peninsula for years. In fact, she opened the first U.S. News bureau in Pyongyang. She's now with the Wilson Center. That's a research institute here in the U.S. And she's with us now from Los Angeles.

Jean Lee, thanks so much for joining us once again.

JEAN LEE: Hi.

MARTIN: So let's start with this issue of a testing site, where North Korea is apparently willing to let outsiders visit. How significant is this site? And how significant would it be to let outsiders in?

LEE: It's reassuring - or it's encouraging, I should say because remember that this is a country that we have so little access to. International inspectors have not been there for nine years. And so just having experts get a look at this - at the site is very good and promising. And also, journalists. This is the region that journalists have not been to. I don't think any foreign journalists have been to this part of North Korea.

But I should warn you that I immediately, when I heard this news, thought of exactly 10 years ago when the North Koreans staged a very similar dramatic and symbolic blowing up of their cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear plant. And of course, that was just shocking and very promising at the time. But meanwhile, the North Koreans were continuing to build a secret, underground uranium enrichment program and that - we didn't know about.

So I think, you know, while it's significant, it's certainly a symbolic gesture on the part of Kim Jong Un, and we will all be looking for the opportunity to get into this part of North Korea that we haven't been to. We also have to remember that they are very good at theater, and this is just one small part of a much broader and bigger weapons program that North Korea has.

MARTIN: Well, you know, to that end, the new national security adviser in the U.S., John Bolton, was on the CBS News program "Face The Nation" today, and he said the same thing, in essence. He said we've heard this before - about some of these reported North Korean promises. But even having said that, Jean - we only have about a minute left - is there something different now? And what will you be watching for as the story continues to play out?

LEE: It is a little bit different because this is a different leader. And also, he has encapsulated that word complete denuclearization in that declaration that he made with President Moon. So he's shown his commitment to it. I think what's important now is what happens next in that - what happens when he sits down with the U.S. president. And that is what is different this time. He's getting what he wants, which is that summit with the president of the United States. And what they can work out at that meeting - either as a deal to end the Korean War or steps to go forward - is what we're going to have to watch closely.

MARTIN: That is Jean Lee of the Wilson Center joining us from Los Angeles.

Jean Lee, thanks so much for joining us once again.

LEE: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.