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NKorea Falls Short on Returning Remains07/19 06:09

   More than a month after North Korea pledged to immediately return some 
American war dead, the promise is unfulfilled.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than a month after North Korea pledged to 
immediately return some American war dead, the promise is unfulfilled.

   Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who traveled to Pyongyang this month to 
press the North Koreans further, said Wednesday the return could begin "in the 
next couple of weeks." But it could take months or years to positively identify 
the bones as those of specific American servicemen.

   In a joint statement at their Singapore summit, President Donald Trump and 
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed to recovering the remains of 
prisoners of war and those missing in action decades after the Korean War --- 
"including the immediate repatriation of those already identified."

   That was more than a month ago, on June 12. Although Trump said eight days 
later that the repatriation had happened, it had not. It still has not. So, it 
was not "immediate," though the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported from South 
Korea on Tuesday that the North has agreed to transfer as many as 55 sets of 
remains next week. The Pentagon and the State Department declined to comment on 
any specifics promised by the North.

   "We're making progress along the border to get the return of remains, a very 
important issue for those families," Pompeo said Wednesday at the White House. 
"I think in the next couple of weeks we'll have the first remains returned, 
that's the commitment, so progress certainly being made there."

   Likely also to prove untrue is the part of the Trump-Kim statement that said 
the North had war remains "already identified." It apparently has bones and 
perhaps associated personal effects, but history shows that any remains handed 
over by the North are likely to be difficult to identify. In recent days the 
State Department has changed that phrase to "already collected," suggesting it 
realized the remains have not been identified.

   "There are no missing Americans who have been 'already identified' by the 
DPRK (North Korea) to be repatriated," says Paul Cole, who has researched 
POW-MIA issues from the Korean War for decades and served for four years as a 
scientific fellow at the Pentagon's Central Identification Laboratory in 
Hawaii. He said this element of the Singapore statement "reflects a near total 
ignorance of the role of science" in accounting for war dead.

   There is even some doubt that any remains turned over would be of Americans. 
Trump admitted as much in a CBS News interview July 14.

   "You know, remains are complicated," he said. "Some of the remains, they 
don't even know if they are remains."

   That's a big step back from his false assertion June 20 in Duluth, 
Minnesota: "We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, 
already 200 got sent back."

   Richard Downes, whose father, Air Force Lt. Hal Downes, is among the Korean 
War missing, says hopes may have been raised too quickly.

   "Yes, the Singapore statement overpromised," he said, "exacerbated by our 
hope that it was accurate."

   Hope has long sustained Downes and thousands of other Americans who seek 
closure after decades of uncertainty about a relative missing from the war. The 
Pentagon says 7,699 U.S. servicemen are missing from Korea, including about 
5,300 believed to be in the North. Downes, 70, was 3 when his father's B-26 
Invader went down on Jan. 13, 1952, northeast of Pyongyang, the North Korean 
capital. His family was left to wonder about his fate. Downes is now executive 
director of the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs, which 
advocates for remains recovery.

   The Singapore statement may yet prove to be an important breakthrough. 
Bringing its promise to fruition, however, is proving harder than Trump made it 
seem.

   As Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies put 
it in a web essay last week, "What was supposed to be the easiest item on the 
United States-North Korea negotiations agenda --- the return of Korean War 
soldiers' remains --- is proving to be yet another sticking point."

   Beyond the promised initial return of remains that the North may have been 
holding in storage for years, the State Department said Sunday the two sides 
have agreed to restart searches for burial locations of U.S. war remains in 
North Korea. That effort was suspended by the U.S. in 2005. This raises another 
delicate issue to be negotiated: how much the U.S. would pay the North for this 
access. In the past it has paid millions, saying the money was "fair and 
reasonable compensation" for the North's help, not payment for bones or 
information.

   In Fitzpatrick's view, the North has dangled the promise of war remains as 
bait to attain political objectives such as progress toward a peace treaty to 
replace the armistice agreement that ended the fighting on the Korean Peninsula 
in July 1953. The North sees this political objective as an essential element 
of ending what it calls Washington's hostile policy toward the North, which in 
turn is linked to its willingness to give up its nuclear weapons.

   The Singapore summit was mainly about Trump's push to rid North Korea of its 
nuclear weapons. He said afterward there was no longer a nuclear threat from 
the North, though Kim agreed only to "work toward complete denuclearization of 
the Korean Peninsula," and no detailed plan has been worked out. On Tuesday, 
Trump seemed to reveal his own doubts about timing. He told reporters, "We have 
no rush for speed," adding, "We're just going through the process."


(KA)

 
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