TOKYO — The United States and North Korea returned to the negotiating table Friday, with generals from the two countries meeting to discuss the possible recovery of more remains from service members killed in the Korean War, an official said.
It was the first known direct talks between the two sides since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang was canceled last month, although President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged messages this week through South Korean mediation.
Friday’s U.S. delegation was led by Maj. Gen. Michael Minihan, chief of staff for the United Nations Command (UNC) and U.S. Forces Korea, according to a UNC official who was not authorized to be named in media reports.
“The potential for future remains return was part of the agenda,” the official said.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that Minihan met North Korean Lt. Gen. An Ik San in the border village of Panmunjom.
Quoting an unnamed government source, Yonhap said the pair discussed the joint excavation and repatriation of the remains of service members killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War.
In late July, North Korea handed over what it said were the remains of more than 50 service members. The remains were flown to Hawaii for analysis and identification. That move was the first tangible result of agreements reached between Trump and Kim at their summit in Singapore on June 12.
The Pentagon estimates that nearly 7,700 U.S. troops are unaccounted for from the war — among them 5,300 believed to have been killed north of the 38th parallel, which largely follows the boundary between North and South Korea.
The process of finding and repatriating the remains has been hampered in the past by North Korea’s reluctance to allow U.S. military investigators access to battle sites. The North also seeks to gain as much political capital and money in the process as possible.
Meanwhile, the newly appointed U.S. special envoy for North Korea will make his first diplomatic trip abroad next week in an attempt to restart negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the State Department announced Thursday.
Stephen Biegun had been set to visit Pyongyang with Pompeo on the trip that was called off. Instead, Biegun will visit South Korea, China and Japan between Sept. 10 and Sept. 15.