Unidentified American and South Korean sources told various outlets on Thursday that North Korea will hand over the remains of at least 55 American soldiers killed during the active period of the Korean War, possibly by the end of the week.
Communist dictator Kim Jong-un promised U.S. President Donald Trump that North Korea would endeavor to return as many remains as possible of Americans killed in Korea during the war during their first-ever summit in Singapore on June 12. After several meetings, and at least one in which North Korean officials simply failed to meet their American counterparts, American officials reportedly feel confident the transfer will happen.
“North Korea recently took two truckloads of wooden boxes to be used for the remains repatriation. It’s expected to hand over the remains on July 27 as agreed upon,” someone identified as “a diplomatic source in Seoul” told the South Korean news agency Yonhap on Thursday.
Yonhap notes that July 27 is the 65th anniversary of the armistice agreement that ended combat in the Korean War. While the active period of the war lasted three years, warring parties never signed a peace treaty, so the Korean War is technically still ongoing.
The boxes had been in Panmunjom, a border village between the Koreas typically used as neutral ground for meetings between both sides in the war, since shortly after Kim and Trump met. According to Yonhap’s source, the boxes are scheduled to travel from North Korea to Seoul to Hawaii, where they will be tested for legitimacy. Many skeptics have expressed concerns that North Korea would offer remains of individuals not affiliated with the Korean War, or even decayed remains of animals instead of humans, so as to not comply with the demand for their return. North Korea has previously delivered such false “remains” as recently as in 2011.
A source speaking to Fox News, identified as an American official, gave a similar report of the status of the remains transfer. According to Fox, American officials are expecting the return of 55 sets of remains from North Korea on Friday.
“The official noted that the return is not certain until the U.S. plane set to retrieve the remains departs from the northeastern city of Wonsan with the remains,” Fox noted.
The number is significantly lower than what the Trump administration appeared to expect from Pyongyang in remarks last month. Fox notes that the Pentagon had claimed that up to 200 sets of remains would return from North Korea shortly after Trump and Kim agreed to the transfer. Some days later, Trump alleged that the remains were already home.
“We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, already 200 got sent back,” President Trump told a crowd in Minnesota on June 21. The White House and Department of Defense had to clarify that the claim was not true shortly after the speech and sent 100 coffins to Panmunjom for pickup by the North Koreans shortly thereafter.
The North Koreans scheduled a meeting with American officials for June 12 to discuss the delivery of the remains, but did not arrive in Panmunjom, leaving the Americans stranded. According to a source speaking to the Washington Post, the Americans arrived in the “peace village” expecting the discussion to take place, “but it just didn’t happen. They didn’t show.”
North Korean officials reached out hours after not attending the meeting complaining that the American officials sent were not of high enough rank to meet theirs, demanding the Pentagon offer a general to discuss the remains, instead. That meeting did occur, leading to the negotiations this week.
Both Kim and Trump promised in the Singapore Declaration, signed jointly at their June meeting, that “the United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.” The United States does not possess any known North Korean remains to return, however, as the war was fought in Korea.
In anticipation of the anniversary of the armistice, North Korean state media on Thursday published a piece honoring Korean War veterans, highlighting a visit by communist officials to the residences of living veterans “who performed immortal feats in the sacred war for defending the country and the grand drive for socialist construction.” The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) lauded the communist Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) for putting “forward the war veterans and tak[ing] warm care of them so that they glorify their honor of being the participants in the great Fatherland Liberation War.”
“The participants in the conference were excited to see the loving care of the respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un who paid deep attention to the schedule of their stay in Pyongyang and took all steps for the maximum promotion of their health and conveniences,” according to the report.