About the Author
View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Officials from the U.S. and North Korea agreed on Sunday to re-commence field operations to search for the remains of 5,300 American soldiers who did not return home from the Korean War, the U.S. State Department announced in a press release on Sunday.
The announcement follows talks between the two sides, which took place on the North Korean side of Panmunjom with the U.S. indicating that further talks on the subject would commence tomorrow.
“Working level meetings between U.S. and North Korean officials will begin on Monday, July 16, to coordinate the next steps, including the transfer of remains already collected in the DPRK,” the statement read.
“Additionally, both sides agreed to re-commence field operations in the DPRK to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who never returned home,” it added.
The talks were the first General Officer-level talks with the DPRK since 2009 and according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency – lasted two hours.
The talks occurred just over a month after President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a joint-declaration following their summit in Singapore, which included commitments on POW/MIA remains.
“The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified,” the fourth point of the declaration reads.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo first announced the meeting following his July 6-7 visit to Pyongyang to discuss the next steps in carrying out the goals of the Singapore agreement. Speaking in Tokyo on July 8, Pompeo initially told reporters a meeting over soldier remains would take place on July 12.
However, North Korean officials failed to show up to the talks, instead proposing later in the day that negotiations occur on July 15, which have now concluded.
The U.S. is seeking the return of the remains of more than 5,000 service members killed during the Korean War, and officials in the past have been told by the North that there are around 200 sets of remains that have already been recovered.
Trump has heavily promoted the item as a tangible success of the summit, but despite the joint-declaration calling for the immediate repatriation of remains already discovered – none have been delivered by Pyongyang.
A spokesperson for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said in late June that 100 wooden caskets had been moved to Panmunjom and were ready to be handed over to the North Koreans at any time. The spokesperson also said an additional 158 “metal transfer cases” were delivered to a nearby U.S. military base.
According to the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the whereabouts of 7,800 service members who fought in the 1950-1953 Korean war are still unaccounted for – 5,300 of which are believed to have disappeared in North Korean territory.
The DPAA lists 33 total joint field activities (JFAs) to recover the remains of U.S. soldiers with the North Koreans, last conducted in 2005.
The U.S. has recovered 340 sets of remains from North Korea since 1990, with a little over half of those repatriated through unilateral turnover by the North and the remaining through JFAs.