WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials said Wednesday that the effort to return some remains of U.S. service personnel missing from the Korean War has regained positive momentum following high-level talks earlier this week between U.S. and North Korean officials.
The two-day talks produced no firm deadline for the return of the remains, but Pentagon officials confirmed news reports saying about 50 remains may be ready for transfer to the U.S.
In June, following the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Pentagon sent 100 transfer cases close to the Demilitarized Zone to be used to transport remains. At that time, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the Pentagon anticipated the first transfer to begin in early July.
That did not occur.
In a statement earlier this week, the Pentagon said the latest talks were to “continue coordination on the transfer of remains already collected in (North Korea) and the recommencing of field operations in (North Korea).”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that some remains would be returned to the U.S. in the coming weeks.
“We think in the next couple weeks we’ll have the first remains returned. That’s the commitment, so progress is certainly being made there,” Pompeo said during a televised cabinet meeting at the White House. He did not say how many remains would be released or when they would be sent.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 7,702 American service members remain unaccounted for from the 1950-53 Korean War. Joint U.S.-North Korean military search teams recovered from North Korea the remains of 229 U.S. service members between 1990 and 2005. The search was suspended in 2005 because of rising nuclear tensions.
The conflict ended with a cease-fire agreement instead of a formal peace treaty, meaning the two Koreas are still technically at war, as well as the U.S. and the other nations who participated in what was called “a police action.”
The 65th anniversary of the signing of the agreement is on July 27.
During his June trip to China, South Korea, and Japan, Mattis said all was in place for handling and processing the remains. He said transfer cases would be positioned in the Demilitarized Zone, and from there all remains would be taken to Osan Air Force base in South Korea for initial triage and determinations, and then. Hickam Air Force base in Hawaii.