North Korean of­fi­cials

2 sides were to dis­cuss the re­turn of troop re­mains

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Adam Tay­lor

were sup­posed to meet with the U.S. mil­i­tary about repa­tri­at­ing the re­mains of the war dead. But ac­cord­ing to a source, the North Kore­ans never showed up.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean of­fi­cials did not turn up to a Thurs­day meet­ing with the U.S. mil­i­tary about repa­tri­at­ing the re­mains of the war dead, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. of­fi­cial with knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion.

The two sides had been ex­pected to meet at the Korean Penin­sula’s de­mil­i­ta­rized zone and dis­cuss the re­turn of U.S. troop re­mains from the 1950-53 war — an ar­range­ment the State De­part­ment had an­nounced af­ter Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo’s visit to Py­ongyang last Fri­day and Satur­day.

On Thurs­day, how­ever, De­part­ment of De­fense and United Na­tions Com­mand of­fi­cials were left wait­ing in the DMZ’s Joint Se­cu­rity Area.

The ex­pected North Korean of­fi­cials never ar­rived, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial who re­quested anonymity as he was not per­mit­ted to talk pub­licly about the event.

“We were ready,” the of­fi­cial said. “It just didn’t hap­pen. They didn’t show.”

A State De­part­ment spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment, but noted that Pom­peo said af­ter his talks in Py­ongyang last week that the date for the meet­ing re­mained flex­i­ble. Just be­fore de­part­ing Py­ongyang, Pom­peo said the meet­ing was set for Thurs­day but that it “could move by one day or two.”

In a state­ment re­leased to re­porters on Thurs­day, South Korea’s For­eign Min­istry said that North Korean mil­i­tary of­fi­cials were now seek­ing a meet­ing with their U.S. coun­ter­parts on Sun­day.

It was not clear why North Korean of­fi­cials did not at­tend the meet­ing Thurs­day or whether they had con­firmed their in­ten­tion to.

Ahead of the sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore, North Korean of­fi­cials had failed to at­tend a plan­ning meet­ing with their U.S. coun­ter­parts, caus­ing ten­sion be­tween the two ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners.

The repa­tri­a­tion of the re­mains of U.S. sol­diers from North Korea has been a ma­jor is­sue be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang since the ar­mistice that end of the Korean War, when thou­sands of Amer­i­cans were left in Korea ei­ther miss­ing in ac­tion or as pris­on­ers of war.

Hun­dreds of re­mains have been repa­tri­ated since 1990, but the process has been fraught with mis­trust. The trans­fer of re­mains be­tween North Korea and the United States has not taken place since 2005.

Pres­i­dent Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had pledged to re­cover more Amer­i­can re­mains when they met in Sin­ga­pore on June 12. A state­ment signed by both lead­ers promised the “im­me­di­ate repa­tri­a­tion of those al­ready iden­ti­fied.”

Trump told a crowd of sup­port­ers a week later that the re­mains of 200 Amer­i­cans “have been sent back.” Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials later de­nied that, but told re­porters that they ex­pected the re­mains to ar­rive within days and had made ar­range­ments for their ar­rival, such as stor­ing cas­kets at the DMZ.

Since the sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore, there has been in­creas­ing scru­tiny of the agree­ment reached by Trump and Kim, with some ex­perts sug­gest­ing that North Korea did not re­ally in­tend to give up its nu­clear weapons.

Pom­peo had vis­ited Py­ongyang last week in a bid to ease any mis­un­der­stand­ings be­tween the two par­ties and find ar­eas where they could make progress. Though the sec­re­tary of state de­scribed the talks as “pro­duc­tive” af­ter they con­cluded, North Korea’s For­eign Min­istry later re­leased a state­ment that crit­i­cized the “re­gret­table” U.S. ne­go­ti­at­ing style.

Speak­ing in Sin­ga­pore on Thurs­day, South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in said that North Korea’s state­ment was a “strat­egy that can of­ten be seen in ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

Moon also said that Pom­peo’s visit had showed that both Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton had the same view of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, ac­cord­ing to his spokesman Yoon Young-chan.

JOHN SMIERCIAK/POST-TRI­BUNE

Hun­dreds of U.S. sol­diers’ re­mains were repa­tri­ated from the North since 1990, but the process faces mis­trust.

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