North Korea is reportedly planning to return remains believed to be those of American service members killed during the Korean War in the very near future.
The North Koreans will transfer 55 sets of suspected remains to the U.S. military in the next couple of weeks, Stars and Stripes reports, citing a U.S. official. A U.S. delegation is expected to retrieve the remains in North Korea and then fly them to Osan Air Base in South Korea or Hawaii soon, possibly on July 27, a date of historical significance as it marks the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the war.
It is difficult to know exactly how many remains the North intends to send over. “55 sets of remains doesn’t exactly mean 55 containers full of remains,” a U.S. military official in Seoul told NK News, adding, “I think part of the challenge on committing to the number of remains is … we don’t exactly know what condition or how many sets of remains we’re dealing with. The North believes they have a number, so we’re going to use that as kind of a planning factor.”
The U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will need to get involved to determine the specifics. The transfer is expected to take place sometime in the next two to three weeks, according to NK News.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to return the remains of U.S. war dead during his June 12 summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore. The U.S. expected North Korea to begin the process of returning the remains last month, when the U.S. military began making preparations for the highly-anticipated transfer that has yet to occur.
The president claimed at a rally in late June that North Korea had already returned the remains of a couple hundred fallen service members. “We got back our great fallen heroes — the remains sent back today. Already, 200 got sent back,” Trump said. At that time, the U.S. military was preparing for the possible return of the remains. U.S. service members with the U.S.-led United Nations Command have apparently been on standby for weeks waiting for North Korea to fulfill its commitments to the U.S.
The North Koreans failed to show for a meeting on the matter last Friday, leaving American officials waiting at the inter-Korean border.
North Korea contacted the U.S. later to reschedule, and the two sides met Sunday.
U.S. and North Korean officials met again Monday to hammer out the details for continuing “coordination on the transfer of remains already collected in (North Korea) and the re-commencing of field operations.”
Thousands of Americans are believed to have fallen in North Korea during the war. The return of the remains of U.S. war dead marks the only concrete aspect of Trump’s agreement with North Korea. That this process has been slow and, at times, challenging indicates that bigger issues, such as the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, may be even more difficult, if not impossible.
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