U.S. military officials were left in the lurch last Thursday when North Korean representatives simply failed to show up for a meeting on recovering and repatriating the remains of the U.S. troops killed during the Korean War, the Washington Post reports.
- According to the Post, officials from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and representatives from United Nations Command were left waiting in the Joint Security Area of the Korean Peninsula’s demilitarized zone on July 12, although it is unclear why the North Korean counterparts failed to attend.
- “We were ready,” according to one anonymous official who spoke to the Post. “It just didn’t happen. They didn’t show.”
- This move was clearly a surprise: According to Stars and Stripes, Pentagon officials “have been on standby for weeks and have sent wooden coffins and flags to Panmunjom in preparation for a handover” to U.S. government officials.
- “Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol agreed in his dialogue with Secretary Pompeo to have his team meet with an American team in Panmunjom on or around July 12th to move forward with the repatriation of American service members’ remains,” State Department spokesman Heather Nauert told Task & Purpose. “Midday July 12th they contacted us and offered to meet on July 15th. We will be ready.”
- Around 7,700 American service members remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency; of those, 5,300 are believed to be located within North Korea.
It’s worth noting that the repatriation of military remains was virtually the only solid point of agreement between Washington and Pyongyang following the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on June 12.
Trump claimed in late June that the repatriation of the remains of U.S. service members killed on the peninsula during the three-year conflict was already underway, telling a crowd during a Minnesota campaign rally that “we got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, already 200 got sent back.”
The current status of such transfers remains unclear.