|The Obama administration has a strained relationship to N Korea, saying it must end its nuclear programme [Reuters]|
The United States says it has reached a deal with North Korea to resume the search for the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War.
After three days of meetings in the Thai capital, Bangkok, the Pentagon said on Friday that officials from the US and North Korea had “reached an arrangement to resume recovering the remains of American servicemen missing from the Korean War”.
US teams are due to start recovery efforts next year in an area around 100km north of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and near the Chosin-Jangjin reservoir where more than 2,000 soldiers and Marines are believed to have gone missing during the 1950-53 war, the Pentagon said.
Earlier search operations were suspended under Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, in 2005 amid a crisis over North Korea’s nuclear programme, with US officials citing concerns for the safety of Americans involved in the recovery operations.
The Pentagon said it had now concluded arrangements with North Korea that will “ensure the effectiveness and safety” of teams heading into the isolated and impoverished nation.
Officials said the US would not pay for the remains but acknowledged that the teams will inevitably spend money for necessities such as food, fuel and security.
About 8,000 Americans are missing from the Korean War, with around 5,500 of them believed to be in North Korea, according to the defence department.
Joint search teams recovered the probable remains of 229 servicemen in the North from the start of operations in 1996 until they were suspended nine years later.
The Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and the North has had tense relations with the US ever since.
The defence department insisted that accounting for missing soldiers is “a stand-alone humanitarian matter, not tied to any other issue between the two countries”.
However, the deal is seen as part of a broader US effort to improve relations with North Korea. The US plans to hold a second round of rare direct talks in Geneva, Switzerland, next week on how to revive six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
The administration of Barack Obama. the US president, has stood firm that North Korea must clearly recommit to a 2005 agreement in which it agreed to end its nuclear programme and ease tensions with South Korea.
After ruling out dialogue for months, US officials met North Korean envoys in July in New York.
US officials have privately voiced doubts about whether the talks in Geneva will yield much progress but have hoped that the dialogue will lower the chances for provocation by Pyongyang.