North Korea has begun returning the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the Korean War and has already taken steps towards denuclearization, President Donald Trump said at a rally in Minnesota late Wednesday.
The U.S. has already received the remains of 200 individuals, the President said, following an agreement signed by him and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the issue in Singapore last week.
The fourth point in that agreement states that the two countries would “commit to recovering POW/MIA remains including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”
A few hours earlier, however, speaking before a meeting with his German counterpart in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis did not indicate that any such transfer of remains had been completed.
“Those discussions are also ongoing right now, but I don’t have any update for you. I know that we’re engaged on it – that’s all I can tell you,” Mattis told reporters.
United States Forces Korea (USFK) spokesperson Chad Carroll, too, told the Washington Post earlier in the day that they were expecting to receive remains from North Korea soon but that any transfer was still in the works.
Wednesday’s rally also saw Trump claim he was aware of multiple actions already taken by North Korea regarding their fulfillment of another goal of the agreement stating the DPRK “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
“They stopped shooting missiles over Japan. They stopped all nuclear testing. They stopped nuclear research. They stopped rocketry. They stopped everything that you’d want them to stop,” Trump said.
The President also said the North “blew up sites where they test and do the testing,” appearing to refer to the Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site, though he has also claimed since the summit that the dismantlement of a missile engine test site was also already underway.
Speaking at a press conference directly after the summit in Singapore, Trump told the press Kim was “already destroying” that site, then saying a moment later: “For the missiles that they were testing, the site is going to be destroyed very soon.”
On this point, Secretary Mattis on Wednesday suggested that any such information on halting nuclear research and Trump’s other claims would not have come through continuing negotiations with North Korea.
Asked if he had seen any military indications that Pyongyang had done anything to dismantle or denuclearize, Mattis said he was “not aware of that.”
“Obviously, (we’re) at the very front end of the process – the detailed negotiations have not begun, I wouldn’t expect that at this point,” he added.
Mattis also confirmed this week’s announcement that drills scheduled for August would indeed be suspended, but declined to comment further on the matter.
The Secretary of Defense is set to meet with other U.S. defense officials this Friday and with South Korean counterparts in Seoul next week to discuss the exercise suspension in more depth.
Washington and Seoul agreed earlier this week to suspend the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian command post exercises (CPX), following President Trump’s surprise announcement of the news to the press in Singapore last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, National Security Advisor John Bolton on Wednesday also appeared to contradict the President’s most recent comments.
In an interview with Fox News, Bolton said the U.S. will “find out soon enough… whether [North Korea] made this strategic decision to denuclearize.”
Bolton also suggested he had not seen any major steps towards an end to all nuclear activities by North Korea, adding that sanctions would remain in place “until we get real evidence – palpable, concrete steps of denuclearization.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Gage Skidmore
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