WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense has suspended efforts to recover the remains of American servicemembers in North Korea because of that country’s recent “unacceptable behavior,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday.

“Remains recovery is obviously a top priority for this department [but] we have suspended that effort because we believe that North Korea has not acted appropriately in recent days and weeks, and it’s important for them to return to the standards of behavior that the international community has called for,” Little said.

North Korean officials recently announced plans to launch a satellite next month, but U.S. and Japanese officials believe the country actually plans to test long-range missiles.

“When there are suggestions that they might launch ballistic missiles,” Little said, “when they engage in actions that could be construed as provocative, we think that it’s not the right time to undertake this effort.”

The DOD in October announced plans to search for U.S. servicemembers declared missing or prisoners of war in North Korea. An advance team was expected to arrive there this month and searches were to begin in April.

From 1996 to 2005, the U.S. recovered the remains of more than 225 people believed to be missing U.S. service members. More than 5,500 American troops who served in the Korean War are believed to be missing in North Korea.

Last week, DOD spokesman Capt. John Kirby said North Korea launching ballistic missiles would be “a very clear violation of two United Nations Security Council resolutions and a violation of their obligation to the international community,” and that the U.S. would consider such a launch “destabilizing behavior.”

On Wednesday, Kirby said the decision to suspend the remains recovery efforts is fundamentally about North Korea failing to meet its international obligations, and he hinted at further action if Kim Jong Un’s government proceeds.

“I believe there will be other repercussions as a result of their continued pursuit of this particular launch,” Kirby said. “North Korea now has an opportunity to meet its obligations and its commitments. This is their choice.”

Twitter: @jhlad

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