WASHINGTON, March 21, 2012 — The United States has suspended efforts to find remains of U.S. service members lost during the Korean War due to North Korean threats to launch a ballistic missile, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.
Recovering remains of those lost and unaccounted for is a priority to the Defense Department, and U.S. experts were due to enter North Korea this month.
“We have suspended that effort because we believe that North Korea has not acted appropriately in recent days and weeks and that it’s important for them to return to the standards of behavior that the international community has called for,” Little said at a Pentagon news conference. “We do hope at some point to be able to re-engage the effort.”
The United States sees the recovery of remains as a humanitarian mission and does not link those operations with other policy issues, Tara Rigler, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement. However, she added, the North Koreans politicized these humanitarian operations “by linking them to long-standing annual military exercises which are defensive in nature and are designed to increase the interoperability between the United States and [South Korea].”
Rigler said these actions and other developments call into question the credibility of all of North Korea’s commitments, including the remains recovery operations. “As a result,” she added, “we are suspending the current arrangement to resume remains recovery operations with [North Korea] until their actions indicate a willingness to move forward in good faith on its commitments.”
North Korea cited the exercises in refusing to honor procedures agreed to in October. Since then, Little said, indications have emerged that North Korea might launch ballistic missiles. “That would be in contravention of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he added, “and that is unacceptable behavior.”
The United States hopes to engage in the future with North Korea on efforts to recover remains, Little said. “But when there are suggestions that they might launch ballistic missiles, when they make bellicose statements about South Korea and engage in actions that could be construed as provocative, we think that it’s not the right time to undertake this effort,” he told reporters. “We’re hopeful that we will get past this period and that we can continue the remains recovery effort.”
The Defense Department remains committed to the fullest possible accounting of the more than 7,950 U.S. service members missing from the Korean War, officials said. An estimated 5,300 are missing in what is now North Korea. In many cases, the United States knows exactly where the service members were buried, as U.S. forces attacked up into North Korea in late 1950.
The Chinese army entered the fray and pushed U.S. and other United Nations forces out of the north. U.S. officials say they know where those burials are, but have not been able to get to them.
Other areas are more of a problem, officials said, especially graves associated with prisoner of war camps. The North Koreans and Chinese tortured, beat and starved POWs, and many hundreds died from the abuse, officials said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)