North Korea Silent on South Korean Journalists Chosen to Cover Nuclear Site Shutdown

In this April 9, 2018, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, in Pyongyang, North Korea. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted …
Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

The latest signal that North Korea’s “diplomatic thaw” could be freezing over again came on Friday, when the Communist state “declined to accept” a list of South Korean journalists who wanted to observe the much-ballyhooed shutdown of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site next week.

North Korea made a show of inviting international journalists (but not nuclear experts) to observe the closing of the partially-collapsed underground nuclear site. However, the South Korean Unification Ministry announced on Friday that Pyongyang has “declined to accept” the list of South Korean journalists submitted as observers.

The quote from a Unification Ministry official published by South Korea’s Yonhap News makes it difficult to tell if North Korea flatly rejected the list of journalists, or did not respond at all after it was submitted. North Korea’s other recent behavior suggests the more pessimistic interpretation:

“The government tried to notify (North Korea of the names of) our journalists who will cover the event for the nuclear test site dismantlement in Punggye-ri through the communication channel at Panmunjom, but the North has not accepted this,” a ministry official said.

The North earlier invited four reporters each from a wire news agency or broadcasting company for the event to be held from Wednesday to Friday to shut down the Punggye-ri site, where the North carried out all six of its nuclear denotation tests.

This comes after the North abruptly canceled high-level inter-Korean talks scheduled for Wednesday, taking issue with an ongoing joint air military drill between South Korea and the United States. It also threatened to call off a summit with the U.S. scheduled for June 12.

CNN notes that a response from Pyongyang is urgently necessary because the South Korean journalists must be granted visas to enter North Korea. There isn’t much time to get the paperwork squared away since the decommissioning event could occur as early as Tuesday.

South Korea’s News 1 said on Friday that it had been invited to watch the shutdown along with reporters from the MBC television network. It’s not clear if these reporters were on the list of journalists submitted by South Korea and ignored or rejected by the North.

.