North Koreans Don’t Show Up at Meeting to Discuss Remains of U.S. Soldiers

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week, after meeting with North Korean officials, that working-level talks would be held on or about Thursday to discuss returning the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War.
Pool photo by Andrew Harnik

North Korean officials did not show up on Thursday for a meeting with Americans at the inter-Korean border to discuss the return of remains of United States soldiers killed in the Korean War, officials said.

Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, committed to repatriating American soldiers’ remains in his June talks with President Trump. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week, after meeting with officials in North Korea, that working-level talks on the matter would be held on or around Thursday in Panmunjom, the so-called truce village on the border between North and South Korea.

Though American military officials went to Panmunjom for the meeting on Thursday, their North Korean counterparts did not, according to a United States defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. A South Korean government official, who also asked for anonymity, confirmed that the North Koreans had not shown up at Panmunjom.

It was not clear whether the Americans had been deliberately stood up. Mr. Pompeo had cautioned that the date for the planned meeting at Panmunjom “could move by one day or two,” indicating that the two sides had not settled all the details before he left Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Saturday.

Mr. Pompeo said his discussions in Pyongyang had been productive, though he left without a North Korean agreement to take specific steps toward dismantling its nuclear weapons program. North Korea later said it was seriously disappointed by Mr. Pompeo’s visit, accusing him of making a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization,” while failing to offer corresponding American incentives to improve ties between the two countries.

North Korea has returned the remains of some American soldiers to the United States over the years since 1953, when an armistice halted the Korean War. But about 5,300 Americans presumed to have been killed in the North are still unaccounted for.

When Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim held their historic summit meeting in Singapore on June 12, Mr. Kim — in addition to promising, in vague terms, to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula — committed to returning the remains of American troops recovered from major Korean War battle sites in his country, including the “immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, Choe Sang-Hun