The United States and North Korea have agreed to resume searching for the remains of thousands of American soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday.
The agreement came at a general-level meeting between the two sides earlier in the day, Pompeo said in a statement. On Monday the two countries will begin working-level talks to coordinate the repatriation of remains already found in the North, he added.
"This meeting was aimed at fulfilling one of the commitments made by Chairman Kim at the Singapore Summit," Pompeo said in the statement, noting that it was the first general-level talks between the two countries since 2009. "Today's talks were productive and cooperative and resulted in firm commitments."
Recovering and returning the remains of American troops killed during the war was one of the agreements that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump reached at their historic summit in Singapore last month.
Sunday's meeting was initially scheduled for last Thursday. But the North Koreans called it off at the last minute and suggested it take place Sunday with a general-level officer from the U.S.-led United Nations Command.
At around 10 a.m., Maj. Gen. Michael Minihan, chief of staff for the UNC, led the U.S. side to talks with the North at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom. The North Korean delegation included a two-star general, according to sources.
"Working level meetings between U.S. and North Korean officials will begin on Monday, July 16, to coordinate the next steps, including the transfer of remains already collected in the DPRK," Pompeo said, using the acronym for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "Additionally, both sides agreed to re-commence field operations in the DPRK to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who never returned home."
The last time North Korea returned the remains of American troops was in 2007. More than 440 sets of remains were repatriated to the U.S. from 1990-2007, but tensions over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs halted the operations.
Last month the U.S. military moved some 100 wooden cases to Panmunjom to prepare to receive the remains.
The North's proposal of talks with the UNC, even though the UNC is led by the U.S., was seen as an attempt to use Sunday's meeting not only to discuss the repatriation of war remains but also other issues, such as a proposal to jointly declare an end to the Korean War, which ended only in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
But a South Korean government source said the North and the U.S. agreed to discuss only the issue of repatriating remains at Sunday's talks. (yonhap)