SEOUL — U.S. military officials hope recent conciliatory gestures from North Korea will eventually open the door to new searches inside the rogue nation for the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War.

Lt. Col. Wayne Perry — a spokesman for the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command — said members of his organization are keeping an eye on developments on the peninsula with fingers crossed.

“As the organization responsible for the recovery and identification of missing Americans from the Korean War, JPAC would welcome the opportunity to work that mission and return unaccounted-for Americans from the Korean War to their families,” Perry said Friday.

Approximately 8,000 U.S. servicemembers remain missing in action or unaccounted for from the Korean War. The U.S. has been barred since 2005 from searching for remains in North Korea, which has been a source of continuing frustration for officials in the business of bringing closure to the families of those soldiers.

North Korea has made a number of recent declarations suggesting Pyongyang might be open to a new era of cooperation with South Korea, the U.S. and the rest of the world.

For example, a New Year’s Day editorial in the state-run media said, “The Workers’ Party of Korea and the government … will strive to develop relations of good-neighborliness and friendship with other countries and achieve global independence under the unfurled banner of independence, peace and friendship.”

South Korea President Lee Myung-bak, in a New Year’s speech, said he hoped this year to hold talks with North Korean officials about searching for the remains of South Korean soldiers whose remains are buried north of the Demilitarized Zone.

During a dig for the remains of American soldiers at a remote site in South Korea last year, JPAC anthropologist Jay Silverstein said he hoped to someday return to North Korea, where he had been involved in digs before access was denied.

“I am always disappointed when politics interfere with human rights and bringing closure to families whose relatives died in Korea so long ago,” he said.

“I found the North Koreans very pleasant to work with,” Silverstein continued. “My experience was very positive. It gave me a lot of hope for the future … that relations between the North and the South and the West and the rest of Asia will someday be improved.”

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