WASHINGTON – More than a month after North Korea promised to return some American war dead immediately, the promise is unfulfilled.
Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo, who traveled to Pyongyang this month to urge the North Koreans, said Wednesday's return could start "in the coming weeks". But it could take months or years to identify the bones as the specific American soldiers.
In a joint statement at its Singapore summit, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to recapture the remnants of prisoners of war and POWs decades after the Korean War ̵
That was more than a month ago, on June 12th. Although Trump said eight days later that the repatriation had taken place, it was not. It still has not. So it was not "instant", although the newspaper "Stars and Stripes" reported on Tuesday from South Korea that the North has agreed to transfer 55 remains next week. The Pentagon and the State Department have refused to comment on the details promised by the North.
"We are making progress along the border to preserve the remains, a very important issue for these families," Pompeo said Wednesday in the White House. "I think in the next few weeks we will be giving back the first remnants, that's the commitment, so there's certainly progress going on there."
Probably the part of the Trump-Kim statement will also turn out to be false, saying North had "already identified" remnants of war. It obviously has bones and perhaps related personal effects, but history shows that any remains handed down from the north are likely to be hard to identify. In recent days, the State Department has changed this sentence to "already collected," suggesting that the remains were not identified.
"There are no missing Americans who have already been" identified "by the DPRK (North Korea) to be repatriated," says Paul Cole, who has been researching POW-MIA issues from the Korean War for decades and serving as a research fellow for four years Central Identification Laboratory of the Pentagon in Hawaii. He said that this element of the Singapore Declaration "reflects an almost complete ignorance of the role of science" when it comes to the war dead.
There is even doubt that any remnants of Americans would be left. Trump admitted this in a CBS News interview on July 14.
"You know, the remains are complicated," he said. "Some of the remains, they do not even know if they are remains."
This is a big step back from his false statement June 20 in Duluth, Minnesota: "We've got back our big fallen heroes today, 200 have already been sent back."
Richard Downes, whose father, Air Force Lt. Hal Downes, missing in the Korean War, says hopes may have been raised too fast.
"Yes, the Singapore Declaration exaggerated," he said, "exacerbated by our hope that it was right."
Hope has Downes and thousands of other Americans missing out on the war after decades of uncertainty Looking for relatives, has long supported. The Pentagon says that 7,699 US troops are missing from Korea, including about 5,300 in the north. Downes, 70, was 3 ½ years old when his father's B-26 Invader collapsed on January 13, 1952, northeast of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. His family had to wonder about his fate. Downes is now the Executive Director of the Coalition of Prisoner of War and Prisoner of War Cold War families who are working to recover the remains.
The Singapore declaration could nevertheless prove to be a major breakthrough. Fulfilling that promise, however, proves to be more difficult when Trump made it appear.
As Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies wrote in an Internet edition last week, "What Should Be the Easiest Item in the World The negotiation agenda of the United States and North Korea – the return of the remnants of the Korean War soldiers – proves itself as another sticking point. "
The promised withdrawal of remnants that the north could keep for years has led the State Department said on Sunday that the two sides had agreed to search for burial grounds of US remnants of war To resume North Korea. These efforts were suspended in 2005 by the US. This raises another sensitive issue that needs to be negotiated: how much would the US pay the North for this access? In the past, it has paid millions and said the money is "just and fair compensation" for the help of the North, not pay for bones or information.
According to Fitzpatrick, the North has kept the promise of remnants of war as bait for political goals such as the move towards a peace treaty that replaced the ceasefire agreement that ended the fighting on the Korean Peninsula in July 1953. The North sees this political goal as an essential element to end Washington's hostile policies to the North. Turn is coupled with its willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons.
The Singapore Summit was largely based on Trump's efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. He said there would be no more nuclear threat from the North after that, although Kim only agreed "to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and no detailed plan was worked out. On Tuesday, Trump seemed to reveal his own doubts about the timing. He told reporters, "We are in no hurry for speed," adding, "We're just through the process."
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.
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