North Korea Didn’t Show For Talks About Returning Remains Of US War Dead

Ryan Pickrell | China/Asia Pacific Reporter

North Korea skipped an important meeting with U.S. officials at the DMZ Thursday in another blow to diplomacy following a setback this past weekend.

During Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s two-day trip to Pyongyang over the weekend, the two sides agreed to meet on July 12 at Panmunjom at the inter-Korean border to discuss the return of remains of U.S. war dead, something North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to in Singapore. The meeting never materialized, according to Stars and Stripes.

U.S. officials from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency showed up at the DMZ Thursday morning, but North Korea never showed, according to South Korean media. The meeting was intended to boost bilateral trust and confidence as the two sides prepare to tackle larger issues, such as the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

American military personnel moved coffins to the inter-Korean border weeks ago in preparation for the transfer of the remains, but North Korea has yet to fulfill the promises made at the Singapore Summit one month ago. (RELATED: US Military Sends 100 Coffins To Korean Border To Collect War Dead)

Thursday’s no-show will likely further raise questions about North Korea’s commitments, especially since the assurance that North Korea would return American war dead was the only concrete achievement of the June 12 summit.

Pompeo’s latest meeting was also problematic. While the secretary insisted that “a great deal of progress was made,” North Korea called the meeting “regrettable” and condemned the U.S. attitude as “cancerous.” (RELATED: North Korean Foreign Ministry Says Talks With Pompeo ‘Regrettable’)

Furthermore, while a meeting with Kim Jong Un was expected, the young despot did not sit down with Pompeo as he had done in the past. In fact, there is a possibility Kim was off inspecting potatoes in Samjiyon at the time.

As for the future of talks on the repatriation of American war dead, South Korean media reports that North Korea has asked the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission to upgrade the talks to a general-level meeting, insisting that the North needs a U.S. general present to finalize the process for the return of the remains.

These talks could potentially be held as early as Sunday.

UPDATE: This post was updated to include North Korea’s reported request for general-level negotiations

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