North Korea returned the remains of 55 U.S. soldiers who died in the North during the 1950-53 Korean War, raising hopes for a breakthrough in the ongoing denuclearization talks.
All eyes are now on what reciprocal measures the U.S. will take to move the denuclearization process forward, with the North demanding a treaty to formally end the Korean War.
“The United Nations Command (UNC) received from the North 55 coffins carrying the remains,” the UNC said in a statement. “A U.S. transport airplane carried them and arrived at Osan Air Base at around 11 a.m. Friday.”
This came hours after the U.S. Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster left for Kalma Airport in North Korea’s eastern city of Wonsan at 5:55 a.m.
The U.S. plans to move the remains to metal coffins before sending them to Hawaii for DNA analysis.
The repatriation of the soldiers’ remains is the first follow-up measure to last month’s landmark summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Expectations are the repatriation of the remains will help settle the deadlocked Washington-Pyongyang dialogue on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Hong Min, director at the Korea Institute for National Unification, viewed the repatriation as a positive sign to allow for an early declaration of the end of the war.
“The event is a tiny yet meaningful step to realize a series of agreements following the U.S.-North Korea summit,” Hong said. “If both sides maintain the reconciliatory relations, an earlier declaration of peace can become a reality. This will also help Washington and Pyongyang narrow their differences in the ongoing denuclearization talks.”
During the April 27 inter-Korean summit, the leaders of the two Koreas agreed to seek an end to the technical state of war before the year is out.
The U.S. and South Korea welcomed the North’s decision to send back the soldiers’ remains.
The U.S. presidential house said in a statement: “Today’s actions represent a significant first step to recommence the repatriation of remains from North Korea and to resume field operations in North Korea to research for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home.”
The South’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also spoke highly of the North’s latest decision. Ministry spokesman Roh Kyu-deok said in a statement: “The decision is a humanitarian move that can contribute to healing pains of the bereaved families of the soldiers.”
The repatriation came on the 65th anniversary of the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, raising hopes for the North to continue engaging in diplomacy.
All eyes are on whether the repatriation of the U.S. remains can help revive the weakening dialogue momentum between Washington and Pyongyang.
At times in recent weeks, the North stepped up criticism on the U.S. for “unilaterally” demanding complete denuclearization of North Korea. This has raised concerns that their denuclearization talks had reached a deadlock, as both sides showed no signs of making any concessions over details on the agenda.
The concern was evident in mid-July when a North Korean delegation failed to show up for a scheduled talk with its U.S. counterpart to discuss the repatriation of the soldiers’ remains.