U.S. Suspends MIA Search in North Korea

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)