North Korea expected to begin transferring remains of US troops soon: officials

A member of the US military is seen through the trees walking with the Korean War Veterans Memorial in the foreground in Washington, D.C.
PHOTO: Reuters

WASHINGTON - North Korea could start the process of handing over the remains of troops, including Americans, missing from the Korean War within the next few days, two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said North Korea would hand over the remains to United Nations Command in South Korea, and they would then be transferred to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

One official said "a sizable number" of remains were expected to be handed over, but declined to give a specific number given the unpredictability of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

It could take months or even years before the remains are positively identified, the officials added.

US President Donald Trump met with Kim at a historic summit last week in Singapore.

In a news conference following the summit, Trump said North Korea had agreed to return the remains of US soldiers.

"(The families) want the remains of their fathers, and mothers, and all of the people that got caught into that really brutal war," Trump said.

"And (Kim) agreed to that so quickly and so nice - it was really a very nice thing, and he understands it," Trump added.

About 7,700 US military personnel remain unaccounted from the 1950-1953 Korean War, US military data shows. According to the Pentagon, North Korean officials have indicated in the past that they have the remains of as many as 200 US troops. More than 36,500 US troops died in the conflict.

The remains of some US soldiers were last returned in 2007, when then-New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson visited Pyongyang.

Trump has hailed the Singapore summit as a success, but skeptics have questioned whether he achieved anything new, given that Pyongyang, which has rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament, appeared to make no new concrete commitments.

Transferring the remains would mark the first step Kim has taken since the summit that could indicate he may be serious about improving relations with Washington.

On Monday, the United States and South Korea said they had agreed to suspend a joint military exercise scheduled for August.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would likely travel back to North Korea "before too terribly long" to try to flesh out commitments made at the summit.

Pompeo, who has travelled twice to North Korea this year and met Kim for a third time at the June 12 Singapore summit, told an audience in Detroit that Kim had made "very clear his commitment to fully denuclearize his country," but there was a great deal of work to do.

When Trump met Kim: A Singapore story

  • Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un made history Tuesday, becoming the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet and shake hands, as they seek to end a tense decades-old nuclear stand-off.
  • It was a meeting many would have thought unimaginable just months ago.
  • The two men strode toward each other and shared the momentous handshake beneath the white-washed walls of an upscale hotel in neutral Singapore, before sitting down for a half-day of meetings with major ramifications for the world.
  • Prior to the meeting held at Capella Hotel in Singapore's resort island of Sentosa, Trump had said that he would know "within the first minute", whether any agreement would be possible.
  • The watching world is not sure if it's the start of a beautiful, budding "bromance", but here's a look at how the world's most talked-about first date unfolded.
  • Their handshake reportedly lasted for 12 long seconds (though still 7 seconds shorter than his memorable handshake with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe).
  • Trump also reached out to touch the North Korean leader on his right shoulder.
  • According to a body language expert Karen Leong, the first 60 seconds showed both leaders seeking to take charge in their encounter. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un both sought to project a sense of command. "Their handshake seems to be between peers," she said.
  • "Trump seemed to be very aware of this, that he needed to up the stakes and be seen that he is the leader."
  • Trump did most of the talking, and Kim appeared to listen attentively, turning to him three times during their walk toward their meeting room.
  • Trump did most of the talking, and Kim appeared to listen attentively, turning to him three times during their walk toward their meeting room.
  • The US President, who is more than twice Kim's age, then appeared to lead the way to the library where they held a one-on-one meeting, placing his hand on the North Korean leader's counterpart's back.
  • Kim also patted the US president' arm, in an attempt to show control over the encounter, said Leong.
  • The leaders appeared to share a few light-hearted moments as they walked down a corridor to the hotel's library.
  • However, Leong said both found it difficult to conceal their nervousness once they were seated, with Trump displaying a slanted smile, and fidgeting with his hands and Kim leaning and staring at the ground.
  • As they sat down for their one-on-one meeting, the US leader predicted a "terrific relationship" with Kim.
  • Mr Kim then said through a translator: “The way to come to here was not easy.The old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward but we overcame all of them and we are here today.”
  • After their closed door one-on-one talks, the pair continued with explanded bilateral talks with their delegation. Trump was flanked by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton.
  • Sitting across the table from the US team were North Korean leader Kim, Kim Yong-chol, first vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s central committee, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Ri Su-yong, Workers’ Party vice chairman on international affairs.
  • Thereafter, the two leaders attended a working lunch with their respective delegations at Capella Hotel.
  • On the lunch menu: Main courses include beef short rib confit, served with potato dauphinois and steamed broccoli; sweet and sour crispy pork and fried rice with an "XO" chilli sauce as well as a Korean dish called "daegu jorim", which is a soy braised cod fish with radish and Asian vegetables.
  • Post-lunch, Kim and Trump then went for a leisurely stroll around the hotel grounds.
  • He also said talks had gone "better than anybody could have expected", and indicated that they were heading for a "signing", but did not divulge any details of the agreement.
  • During their walk, Trump unexpectedly gave Kim a peek into his super limo, nicknamed "The Beast".
  • But they did not get to hop on to go for a joyride, as commentators had hoped.
  • The pair met to sign an agreement, details of which were not revealed during the signing. Trump said: "We're signing a very important document, pretty comprehensive document, and we've had a really great time together, a great relationship... More will be discussed at a press conference soon."
  • When asked what he learnt about Kim, Trump said that he is "a very talented man", and that "he loves his country very much".
  • Mr Trump also described Mr Kim as a "very worthy, very smart negotiator".
  • According to sources after the signing, the two leaders pledged to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, while Washington committed to provide security guarantees for its old enemy.
  • The signatures of US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he expected the denuclearization process to start "very, very quickly".
  • Kim places a hand on Trump's back as they leave the room after the signing.
  • After the signing, the pair walked out for another round of photo-taking.
  • Reports say Mr Kim departed Singapore on a chartered Air China flight at 11.20pm and midnight on Tuesday, while Trump left on Air Force One earlier at 6.25pm.
  • At 4pm, Trump held a press conference on the summit outcome and details on the agreement signed.
  • "We signed a joint statement that is an unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of North Korea," he says.
  • The Capella Hotel on Singapore's resort island of Sentosa, provided the backdrop for the historic summit.
  • Trump's motorcade arriving at Sentosa on Tuesday (June 12) morning.
  • Setting the stage ready for the handshake that will be seen across the world.
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