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North Koreans fail to show up for talks in Panmunjom

July 12,2018
The United States and North Korea were supposed to discuss the repatriation of the remains of U.S. soldiers who died during the 1950-53 Korean War on Thursday but couldn’t because the North Koreans didn’t show up.

The talks would have come a month after the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12. The meeting was arranged during U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang last week, over July 6 and 7.

The U.S. side, led by Department of Defense and United Nations Command officials, was expected to hold a meeting with their North Korean counterparts that morning at the T3 building, which function as meeting rooms for the Military Armistice Commission, at the truce village of Panmunjom at the inter-Korean border at the demilitarized zone.

Diplomatic sources said Thursday that the North Korean officials did not turn up as of that afternoon. The reasons were not immediately revealed, but officials didn’t rule out the possibility that the meeting could take place later that day or on Friday.

“The North and the United States agreed to hold discussions on the return of the remains of the U.S. troops around July 12 during Secretary of State Pompeo’s recent visit to North Korea,” Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters in Seoul early afternoon Thursday.

When asked to specify what he meant by “around July 12,” Noh told the reporter to “interpret it as you wish.”
Noh said that more specific questions should be “directed to the U.S. side.” But he added that South Korea and the United States are “frequently in communication through different channels on the related situation.”

The return of the remains of American soldiers, as agreed upon during the June 12 North Korea-U.S. Singapore summit, might have provided momentum for denuclearization negotiations, which appear to be deadlocked.

The four-point joint statement signed by Trump and Kim Jong-un at their June 12 Singapore summit states: “The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.” DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

According to Trump at his press conference after the summit with Kim, the issue of the return of the remains of American prisoners of war (POW) and soldiers missing in action (MIA) had not been on their agenda and was brought up at the last minute. Trump called Kim “very gracious” in agreeing to their repatriation, and added, “So for the thousands and thousands — I guess way over 6,000 that we know of, in terms of the remains, they’ll be brought back.”

Trump, after the summit last month, said prematurely that the remains of U.S. troops missing from the Korean War were sent back, then later clarified that they are in the process of being returned to the United States from North Korea.

However, Kelly McKeague, director of the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), which tracks the remains of fallen American soldiers overseas, said in an interview with Reuters published Wednesday that even if North Korea agrees to resume the search for the thousands of American war dead, it will be months before excavations can begin and years until bone fragments are identified.

He said it can take “from a few months to, in many cases, years,” before identification of the bodies can be made. Advisers from the DPAA were expected to take part in the North-U.S. talks over the return of the remains, and McKeague said he hoped that this would enable actual “detailed planning” for the process.

On June 23, the U.S. Forces Korea said the UN Command transferred some 100 wooden caskets to the Joint Security Area to prepare for the remains of American soldiers.
Returned soldiers receive a U.S. military funeral with full honors.


BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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