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Repatriating remains

June 22,2018
At a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, U.S. President Donald Trump told a raucous crowd that North Korea had returned on Wednesday the remains of 200 U.S. troops missing from the 1950-53 Korean War. Earlier, the U.S. media, including CNN, reported that North Korea would send back the remains of as many as 200 U.S. soldiers who were prisoners of war. But Trump announced that the United States had already received the remains of those soldiers.

It was not yet confirmed if the remains had really been returned or if a repatriation process has just begun. Remains of U.S. Forces have usually been delivered to U.S. Forces’ bases in South Korea before being sent to the United States. But our Ministry of National Defense said it did not receive them yet.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that North Korea’s returning of the remains is imminent. The last time remains of U.S. troops were returned was April 2007 when North Korea sent back six remains. If Pyongyang returns the remains of 200 soldiers in one batch, that would be the largest repatriation yet.

The U.S. government’s persistent efforts to bring them home remind us of the responsibility of a nation to take care of its soldiers even after they die in war. That’s why the return of the remains deserves respect. But we should pay more heed to the fact that it was the first action North Korea took following the June 12 Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

At the summit, the two leaders agreed to establish new U.S.-North relations in accordance with the desire of the people of the two countries for peace and prosperity; to join in their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace on the Korean Peninsula; to reaffirm the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration to work towards the complete denuclearization of the peninsula; and to recover remains of prisoners of war, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

If the remains of the 200 U.S. soldiers are returned, it will certainly help boost trust between Washington and Pyongyang. But the timetable for the denuclearization of North Korea is yet to be drafted even though Seoul and Washington already decided to suspend their annual joint military exercises starting with the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill slated for August.

North Korea’s decision to repatriate the remains of U.S. soldiers in accordance with the Singapore agreement should be respected. But it’s only significant if it is a step toward denuclearization.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 22, Page 30