US and North Korean military officials met in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Sunday to discuss the return of remains of an estimated 5,300 US soldiers killed during the Korean War, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
During talks in the border village of Panmunjom, the two sides agreed to restart the search for those missing from the 1950-53 conflict between the two Koreas, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
“Today’s talks were productive and cooperative and resulted in firm commitments,” Pompeo said.
Further talks on Monday
He added that working level meetings would begin on Monday to coordinate the next steps for the repatriation of remains, including the transfer of those already collected in North Korea.
The repatriation of US remains was one aspect of a deal reached during an unprecedented summit last month in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Pompeo announced the plan for talks earlier this month, after visiting the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. He boasted that it was one of the key issues the two sides had made progress on.
But shortly after he left the country, the North slammed Pompeo and his delegation for making “gangster like” demands in connection with Washington’s push for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Today’s negotiations were originally scheduled for Thursday, but the North Korean delegation never showed up. Subsequently, they asked to have the meeting on Sunday.
North Korea and the US carried out joint operations to recover the remains of US soldiers between 1996 and 2005. But the relationship disintegrated as Pyongyang continued to accelerate its nuclear program.
In 2013, Pyongyang cut off a hotline with the United Nations Command (UNC), a unified command structure for multinational military forces based in the DMZ. North Korea declared the armistice — which ended the Korean War — to be null and void.
The US Department of Defense has said that in the past the North has claimed to possess the remains of up to 200 US soldiers. But what, if anything, North Korea may be willing to hand over remains unclear.
Still, the US Army has brought in 100 wooden coffins to the DMZ with the hope of recovering some of the remains, the Yonhap news agency reported.
It’s unclear if Sunday’s talks included the armistice issue.
At last month’s summit meeting Kim made a vague commitment to “work toward denuclearization” but there were no details as to how or when such disarmament would take place.
The North has pursued its nuclear arms program despite UN Security Council resolutions condemning the program.
Pompeo claims progress has been made in setting a timeline for the North’s denuclearization.
mm, bik/aw (Reuters, AFP)