North Korea suspends nuclear and missile tests, state media says

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

Official news agency says suspension goes into effect Saturday

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, seen at a meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 9, has reportedly announced that the North will suspend nuclear and missile tests. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via Associated Press)

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

The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests went into effect Saturday.

The North also vowed to actively engage with regional neighbours and the international community to secure peace on the Korean Peninsula and create an "optimal international environment" to build its economy.

The announcements came days before North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a border truce village for a rare summit aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.

North and South Korea installed the first telephone hotline between their leaders Friday as they prepare for the summit.

Moon's office welcomed the announcement as "meaningful progress" toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Presidential official Yoon Young-chan said in a statement Saturday local time the announcement will brighten the prospects for successful talks between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington.

A meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump is anticipated in May or June.

Trump responded to Friday's announcement on Twitter, calling it "very good news for North Korea and the world."

However, KCNA also quoted Kim saying that his country no longer needs to conduct nuclear tests or intercontinental ballistic missile tests because it has completed weaponizing nuclear arms.

On Thursday, Moon said the North had expressed a commitment to "complete denuclearization." 

Trump has said he will meet with Kim in May or June, but on Wednesday warned he will call off the summit if he doesn't believe it will produce results.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations welcomed Saturday North Korea's announcement, and praised the way the UN Security Council "really came together" in order to achieve that.

Speaking at an informal working meeting of the Security Council ambassadors in southern Sweden on Saturday, Nikki Haley said pressure and sanctions coming from the UN enabled the isolation of North Korea "until they had a good behaviour, and now we are seeing they want to come to the table."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told reporters in Sweden that he was optimistic about North Korea's decision, saying that "the path is open for the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

In an earlier statement released by his office, Guterres wished the two Koreas ahead of their April 27 summit "every success in their courageous and important task of resuming sincere dialogue leading to sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula." He also praised the establishment of a direct telephone link between the leaders of North and South Korea.

'New stage' of policies

The North's decisions were made in a meeting of the ruling party's full Central Committee which had convened to discuss a "new stage" of policies.

The Korean Workers' Party's Central Committee declared it a "great victory" in the country's policy line of simultaneously pursuing economic and nuclear development.

The committee unanimously adopted a resolution that called for concentrating national efforts to achieve a strong socialist economy and "groundbreaking improvements in people's lives."

In this photo provided by South Korea Presidential Blue House, an official from South Korea talks on the phone with North Korea side for a hotline test at the Blue House in Seoul Friday, April 20. (Yonhap/Associated Press)

"To secure transparency on the suspension of nuclear tests, we will close the republic's northern nuclear test site," the party's resolution said.

The agency quoted Kim as saying during the meeting: "Nuclear development has proceeded scientifically and in due order and the development of the delivery strike means also proceeded scientifically and verified the completion of nuclear weapons.

"We no longer need any nuclear test or test launches of intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles and because of this the northern nuclear test site has finished its mission."

China, North Korea's main ally, is welcoming the decision.

China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang as saying Beijing wishes for North Korea to continue to achieve results in the development of its economy and improving the living standards of its people.

He says China will support North Korea through dialogue and consultations with "relevant parties" to resolve their concerns and improve relations.

Position of strength?

North Korea's abrupt diplomatic outreach in recent months came after a flurry of weapons tests, including the underground detonation of a possible thermonuclear warhead and three launches of developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to strike the U.S. mainland.

Some analysts see Kim as entering the upcoming negotiations from a position of strength after having declared his nuclear force as complete in November. South Korean and U.S. officials have said Kim is likely trying to save his broken economy from heavy sanctions.

Seoul says Kim has expressed genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons. But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of "denuclearization" that bears no resemblance to the American definition, vowing to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its troops from the peninsula.

South Korean scientists have questioned whether the North could continue conducting underground nuclear detonations at its mountainous test site in Kilju in the northeast due to a series of earthquakes that were likely triggered by the activity, suggesting it's too unstable for further bomb tests.

At the height of Pyongyang's standoff with Washington and Seoul last year, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters the country could conduct an atmospheric hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday he welcomed North Korea's statement but with an important caveat.

"This announcement is forward motion that I'd like to welcome," Abe told reporters. "But what's important is that this leads to complete, verifiable denuclearization. I want to emphasize this."

Japan has advocated a policy of maximum pressure on North Korea to get the reclusive state to abandon its weapons program.

With files from Reuters