With re­mains in U.S., Kim wants re­ward

N. Korea kept prom­ise on re­turn­ing sol­diers home; now it wants a treaty

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Eric Tal­madge | As­so­ci­ated Press

PY­ONGYANG — North Korea made good on a prom­ise to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump by re­turn­ing 55 sets of ap­par­ent re­mains of U.S. sol­diers killed dur­ing the Korean War. But it ex­pects some­thing in re­turn — a peace treaty, or some­thing much like it.

Un­til that’s on the ta­ble, real progress to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion will likely have to wait.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in his sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore with Trump last month to re­sume re­turn­ing re­mains.

But the North chose the most sym­bolic day to turn over the first batch.

Fri­day was the 65th an­niver­sary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, which con­cluded not in a for­mal peace treaty but in an armistice agree­ment that was sup­posed to be tem­po­rary but has stayed in ef­fect ever

since.

That, to North Korea, says it all.

North Korea’s de­mand all along has been that im­proved re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries must be­gin with the cre­ation of a sta­ble peace on the Korean Penin­sula, not with the uni­lat­eral aban­don­ment of the North’s nu­clear weapons that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been push­ing for. North Korea’s logic is that both sides need to take si­mul­ta­ne­ous ac­tion to grad­u­ally im­prove the se­cu­rity cli­mate.

De­nu­cle­ariza­tion, if it will come at all, will only come once that hur­dle has been cleared.

“The adop­tion of the dec­la­ra­tion on the ter­mi­na­tion of war is the first and fore­most process in the light of end­ing the ex­treme hos­til­ity and es­tab­lish­ing new re­la­tions be­tween the DPRK and the U.S.,” the North’s Korean Cen­tral News Agency said in a state­ment on Tues­day, re­fer­ring to North Korea by its of­fi­cial name, the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea.

“Peace can come only af­ter the dec­la­ra­tion of the ter­mi­na­tion of war,” it said.

To keep the ball rolling in the mean­time, North Korea has an­nounced a mora­to­rium on nu­clear tests and long-range mis­sile launches. It has de­mol­ished struc­tures and the en­trances to build­ings on the site of its un­der­ground nu­clear test­ing fa­cil­ity in Pung­gye-ri, and ap­pears to have be­gun dis­man­tling some of its mis­sile test­ing fa­cil­i­ties at So­hae.

It has also re­turned three Amer­i­cans who were be­ing held in jail and has sig­nif­i­cantly toned down its an­tiU.S. pro­pa­ganda.

All should be seen as pos­i­tive steps — cer­tainly when com­pared to last year, when the U.S. and North Korea were trad­ing in­sults and threats of nu­clear war.

But none of the North’s ac­tions have much to do with de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

North Korea has yet to de­clare what its nu­clear pro­gram con­sists of — how many bombs it has, where they are built — in­for­ma­tion that must be re­vealed to Washington be­fore any cred­i­ble de­nu­cle­ariza­tion process can even be­gin. The mora­to­ri­ums could eas­ily be re­scinded if Kim chooses to do so, and ex­perts be­lieve new un­der­ground test­ing tun­nels and mis­sile test sites could be re­built in a mat­ter of months.

Fri­day’s repa­tri­a­tion of the Amer­i­can re­mains was also fairly low hang­ing fruit for North Korea.

The re­mains of more than 5,000 Amer­i­can sol­diers are be­lieved to be re­cov­er­able in the coun­try, and it is pos­si­ble the North al­ready has col­lected hun­dreds Army Col. Sam Lee salutes the cases con­tain­ing the ap­par­ent re­mains of U.S. sol­diers killed dur­ing the Korean War.

of re­mains that it could turn over at any time. The re­mains is­sue is clearly not di­rectly linked to de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, but shifts the fo­cus back to trust-build­ing and good­will mea­sures.

This isn’t the first time the North has co­op­er­ated with repa­tri­at­ing re­mains.

Such mis­sions had been held from 1996 un­til they were can­celed by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush amid height­en­ing ten­sions over the North’s nu­clear pro­gram

in 2005. The re­mains re­turned Fri­day are be­lieved to be some of the more than 200 that North Korea has held in stor­age for some time, and were likely re­cov­ered from land dur­ing farm­ing or con­struc­tion.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the war dead has yet to be lo­cated and re­trieved from ceme­ter­ies and bat­tle­fields across the coun­try­side.

Fol­low­ing an hon­ors cer­e­mony Wed­nes­day, the re­mains are to be flown to

Hawaii for sci­en­tific test­ing. A series of foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tions will be done to de­ter­mine if they are hu­man and if the dead were Amer­i­can or al­lied troops killed in the con­flict. North Korea has had prob­lems with iden­ti­fy­ing re­mains in the past, fa­mously send­ing a set to Ja­pan that it claimed were of an ab­ducted Ja­panese cit­i­zen, but which Tokyo said turned out to be dog bones.

Trump’s im­me­di­ate re­sponse, nev­er­the­less, was grat­i­tude.

“Af­ter so many years, this will be a great mo­ment for so many fam­i­lies,” he tweeted. “Thank you to Kim Jong Un.”

The repa­tri­a­tion of re­mains could be fol­lowed by stronger North Korean de­mands for fast-tracked dis­cus­sions to for­mally end the war. South Korea’s De­fense Min­istry has an­nounced the North agreed to gen­eral-level mil­i­tary talks next week at a bor­der vil­lage to dis­cuss re­duc­ing ten­sions across the coun­tries’ heav­ily armed bor­der.

Ex­perts say a dec­la­ra­tion to of­fi­cially end the war, which could also in­volve Seoul and Bei­jing, would make it eas­ier for North Korea to steer the dis­cus­sions with Washington to­ward a peace treaty, diplo­matic recog­ni­tion, se­cu­rity as­sur­ances and eco­nomic ben­e­fits. Some an­a­lysts be­lieve that North Korea would even­tu­ally de­mand that the United States with­draw or dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the 28,500 troops it keeps in South Korea as a de­ter­rent.

Washington has main­tained that North Korea won’t get sanc­tions re­lief and sig­nif­i­cant se­cu­rity and eco­nomic re­wards un­less it firmly com­mits to a process of com­pletely and ver­i­fi­ably elim­i­nat­ing its nu­clear weapons.

North Korea’s ac­tions, how­ever, ap­pear to be aimed at chip­ping away sup­port for that hard-line po­si­tion.

STAFF SGT. QUINCE LANFORD/U.S. ARMY

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