WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers on Wednesday that the United States has “not yet” received the remains of American service members killed in the Korean War more than six decades ago that Kim Jong-un has vowed to repatriate as part of a deal with the United States.
Pompeo noted that he is “optimistic” North Korea will soon return some of the deceased troops “in the not too distant future.”
His comments came nearly a week after U.S. President Donald Trump said North Korea was “in the process of sending back” the remains.
On June 23, the New York Times (NYT) reported that the U.S. military “had moved 100 wooden coffins and American flags to the border with North Korea to prepare for the repatriation” of some of the remains. However, the recovery of any remains of American service members who paid the ultimate price for America has yet to come to fruition, Pompeo told a Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.
During a hearing by the Senate panel on Wednesday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) asked Pompeo, “Are we expecting any remains to be repatriated any time in the foreseeable future?”
The secretary responded:
I am optimistic that we will begin … to receive some remains in the not too distant future … We are intent on denuclearization make no mistake about it, but we are also, for all the obvious reasons, intent on doing our best to get back as many remains [of] Americans. There are other foreigners there as well. We’ve had other countries ask to participate in this too. We are dogged in trying to facilitate this as quickly as we possibly can.
Sen. Shaheen said that North Korea has failed to keep its promises to repatriate the remains of American troops in the past, noting that “efforts to repatriate those people who died in the Korean War have been fraught with difficult challenges.”
Asked to clarify whether or not the U.S. has received any remains of American troops in the wake of the historic June 12 summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim, Pompeo stressed, “We have not yet physically received them.”
Pompeo’s comments come nearly a week after U.S. President Donald Trump told a crowd of supporters on June 20, “We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, already 200 got sent back,” Reuters reported.
The president appeared to clarify his comments the following day, noting that the remains of American troops missing from the Korean War were likely in the process of being repatriated.
“They’ve already sent back, or in the process of sending back, the remains of our great heroes who died in North Korea during the war,” Trump clarified on June 21, according to Reuters.
North Korea is expected to repatriate the remains of between 200 and 250 American servicemen who perished in the North Korean war as part of the denuclearization agreement between Trump and Kim reached at the June 12 summit.
Trump said soon after the summit that Kim had pledged to “quickly” return the remains of deceased American troops. The return of the remains is a major tenet of the agreement signed by the two leaders after the summit.
“The United States and [North Korea] commit to recovering POW/MIA [prisoner of war/missing in action] remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified,” the agreement declares.