US, North Korea resume talks on recovery of war dead remains
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 9, 2018
SEOUL, South Korea — While the United States and North Korea struggle to get nuclear talks back on track, negotiators moved forward with efforts to bring home the remains of more American troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.
U.S. and North Korean generals met Friday in the truce village of Panmunjom to discuss the next steps, a spokesman said, more than a month after 55 cases said to contain the remains of U.S. servicemembers were repatriated.
The talks came as the longtime adversaries are otherwise locked in a diplomatic stalemate over efforts to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
“Participants discussed military-to-military efforts to support any potential future return of remains,” UNC spokesman Col. Chad Carroll said Sunday in an email. More details were not released.
The return of the 55 cases in late July was the first such repatriation in more than a decade. President Donald Trump hailed it as a tangible outcome of his June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
But experts noted it was just the start of a long process, with more than 7,600 Americans still missing from the war, including 5,300 believed to have been lost in North Korea.
The Yonhap News Agency reported that Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Minihan, who is chief of staff for United Nations Command and U.S. Forces Korea, and North Korean Lt. Gen. An Ik San were the chief delegates at the meeting.
Trump and Kim agreed at the Singapore summit to resume the long-stalled search for the remains, “including the immediate repatriation of those already identified” as part of a four-point declaration that mainly focused on a promise to try to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
The return of the 55 cases fulfilled part of that promise, but U.S. officials are pushing to resume searches in North Korea. The recently returned remains, mostly bones and other fragments, were flown to Hawaii for analysis and identification.
Joint U.S.-North Korean military search teams recovered 229 caskets containing American remains from North Korea between 1996 and 2005.
The U.S. conducted 33 investigative and recovery operations in the country before former President George W. Bush’s administration called off the search, claiming the safety of American participants was not guaranteed.
Critics at the time also argued the North was using the program to extort money from Washington, prompting the label “bones for bucks.”
The last repatriation was in 2007, when then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson traveled to Pyongyang and returned with six sets of remains.
The State Department has said no payment was made for the remains received in July.
Negotiators, meanwhile, are working to resume diplomatic efforts after Trump canceled a planned trip to the North by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, citing frustration over slow progress on denuclearization.
The new special U.S. envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, will travel to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo for a weeklong trip starting Monday.