Trump releases first two names of U.S. war dead handed over by North Korea

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Marine stands as caskets containing the remains of American servicemen from the Korean War handed over by North Korea arrive at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump released the names on Thursday of two Army soldiers killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War whose remains were handed over by North Korea this year in a goodwill gesture.

Trump said the first remains identified by the U.S. military belonged to Army Master Sergeant Charles H. McDaniel, 32, of Vernon, Indiana, and Army Private First Class William H. Jones, 19, of Nash County, North Carolina.

“These HEROES are home, they may Rest In Peace, and hopefully their families can have closure,” Trump said in his Twitter post.

North Korea handed over 55 boxes containing the remains of war dead in July, fulfilling a pledge by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during his June summit with the U.S. president in Singapore.

The remains, which were repatriated to Hawaii on Aug. 1, included only one “dog tag,” a form of identification in the U.S. military.

The U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) said earlier this month it had identified the first two American troops from the boxes of remains, but declined to name them publicly, saying their relatives would be notified first.

On Thursday, the DPAA said it was hoping to speak next month with the North Korean military about resuming field operations inside North Korea to find remains of U.S. service members.

“We have communicated, through the DPRK mission to the U.N., an invitation to sit down with them to negotiate the resumption of field operations inside North Korea that would commence in the spring of 2019,” Kelly McKeague, director of the DPAA, told Reuters.

McKeague said North Korea had not yet accepted the invitation.

More than 7,700 U.S. troops remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.

The United States and North Korea worked together on joint field activities to recover remains from 1996 to 2005, until Washington halted operations, expressing concerns about the safety of its personnel.

The Trump administration has hailed the handover of the remains as evidence of the success of Trump’s summit with Kim.

The administration said on Wednesday it was ready to resume talks with North Korea after Pyongyang pledged to dismantle key missile facilities and suggested it would close its main Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for unspecified action by Washington.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and David Alexander; Editing by G Crosse and Peter Cooney)

North Korea’s Kim wants another Trump summit to speed denuclearization: South Korea’s Moon

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk during a luncheon, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 21, 2018. KCNA via REUTERS

By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s Kim Jong Un wants a second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump soon to hasten denuclearization, but a key goal is declaring an end this year to the 1950-53 Korean War, the South’s President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday.

Moon said he and Kim spent most of a three-day summit discussing how to break an impasse and restart nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington, which are at odds over which should come first, denuclearization or ending the war.

Kim, who recently proposed another summit with Trump after their unprecedented June talks in Singapore, said the North was willing to “permanently dismantle” key missile facilities in the presence of outside experts, and the Yongbyon main nuclear complex, if the United States took corresponding action.

The joint statement from the summit stipulates his commitment to a “verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of the nuclear programs, and ending the war would be a first U.S. reciprocal step, Moon said.

“Chairman Kim expressed his wish that he wanted to complete denuclearization quickly and focus on economic development,” Moon told a news conference in Seoul, shortly after returning from the summit with Kim in Pyongyang.

“He hoped a second summit with Trump would take place in the near future, in order to move the denuclearization process along quickly.”

INSPECTIONS

Moon said Kim was also open to inspection of a nuclear test site in the northwest town of Punggye-ri, which he called the North’s sole existing facility for underground detonations.

While Pyongyang has stopped nuclear and missile tests this year, it failed to keep its pledge to allow international inspections of its dismantling of the Punggye-ri site in May, stirring criticism that the move could be reversed.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday he had invited North Korea’s foreign minister to meet in New York next week and other Pyongyang officials to Vienna for talks with nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun.

Asked on Thursday if those meetings would take place, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said invitations had been sent and added: “We certainly stand ready to meet if they are able to.”

Nauert said Washington looked forward to a formal readout of the North-South talks in meetings with the South Koreans next week, which will include one between Trump and Moon on Monday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Asked about Pompeo’s statement on Wednesday welcoming plans for the dismantlement of all facilities at Yongbyon in the presence of U.S. and IAEA inspectors, Nauert said Moon and Kim had talked about inspectors.

“Having IAEA inspectors and United States inspectors be a part of anything is really just a shared understanding,” she said.

“Any time you have a nuclear situation like this where there is a dismantlement, the expectation is that the IAEA would be part of that, so that would be just the normal course of doing business. We have that shared understanding with the countries.”

Asked why this detail was not in the document signed by Moon and Kim, Nauert replied: “We have had conversations … with the government of North Korea and that is our mutual understanding; that is also the understanding between (South) Korea and North Korea. That was one of the things discussed, according to my understanding of it, over the past few days.”

Nauert did not respond when asked if the United States was willing to take “corresponding measures,” except to say: “Nothing can happen in the absence of denuclearization; denuclearization has to come first.”

The North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Song, did not reply when asked by reporters on Thursday if his foreign minister would meet Pompeo on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly next week.

ENDING WAR

Kim pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” during two meetings with Moon and his encounter with Trump, but follow-up negotiations on how to implement the vague commitments have since faltered.

Washington calls for concrete action, such as a full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities, before satisfying Pyongyang’s key demands, including an official end to the war and the easing of international sanctions.

The war ended in an armistice, rather than a peace treaty, meaning U.S.-led United Nations forces, including South Korea, are technically still at war with the North.

But there have been concerns in South Korea and the United States that ending the war would ultimately prompt China and Russia, if not North Korea, to demand that the United Nations Command (UNC), which overlaps with U.S. forces in South Korea, be disbanded and leave.

Seoul aims to jointly announce with the United States an end to the war within this year, a measure Moon said he would discuss with Trump when they meet next week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

An end-of-war declaration would not affect the presence of U.S. troops and the UNC in the South, Moon said, adding that Kim shared his view.

“It would be a political declaration that would mark a starting point for peace negotiations,” Moon said.

“A peace treaty would be sealed, as well as normalization of North Korea-U.S. relations, after the North achieves complete denuclearization.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee; additional repotring by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; editing by Soyoung Kim, Clarence Fernandez and Lisa Shumaker)

North Korea’s Kim says summit with Trump stabilized region, sees more progress

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wave during a car parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 18, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS

By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Tuesday his “historic” summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore stabilized regional security, and that he expected further progress at an inter-Korean summit aimed at reviving stalled nuclear diplomacy.

Kim thanked South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in for bringing about the Singapore meeting in June as the two leaders began their third round of talks in Pyongyang.

“Thanks to that, the political situation in the region has stabilized and I expect more advanced results,” Kim told Moon, referring to the Singapore gathering, at the start of their talks.

The Kim-Moon summit will be a litmus test for another meeting Kim has recently proposed to Trump, with the South Korean president seeking to engineer a proposal that combines a framework for the North’s denuclearization and a joint declaration ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

Moon expressed gratitude for Kim’s “bold decision to open a new era”.

The first session of the talks, which lasted for two hours, were held at the headquarters of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, with party vice chairman Kim Yong Chol and Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong, as well as South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong and spy chief Suh Hoon in attendance.

LIMOUSINE PARADE

Earlier, the leaders paraded down the streets of Pyongyang in Kim’s black Mercedes limousine to loud cheers from nearly 100,000 North Koreans who waved flowers and chanted “Motherland!Unification!”

Kim greeted Moon with hugs and handshakes as the South Korean leader landed in the North’s capital with a mission to rekindle momentum in faltering talks between Washington and Pyongyang over denuclearization and a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

As Kim escorted Moon to the Paekhwawon State Guest House, where Moon will stay during his three-day visit, Kim said he wanted to produce a “bigger outcome at a faster pace” than the two leaders have achieved so far.

Moon, himself the offspring of a family displaced by the war, has met Kim twice this year at the border village of Panmunjom.

“You Mr. President are traveling all around the world, but our country is humble compared with developed nations,” Kim told Moon. “I’ve been waiting and waiting for today. The level of the accommodation and schedule we provide may be low, but it’s our best sincerity and heart.”

Moon said it was “time to bear fruit” and thanked Kim for his hospitality, which included a massive welcome ceremony at Pyongyang International Airport featuring a large, goose-stepping honor guard and a military band.

During their motor parade through Pyongyang’s landmark Ryomyong Street, a new residential district launched last year under Kim’s initiative to modernize the city, Kim and Moon briefly stepped out of the vehicle to greet and take flowers from members of the crowd.

“CHIEF NEGOTIATOR”

Trump has asked Moon to be “chief negotiator” between himself and Kim, according to Moon’s aides, after Trump canceled a trip to Pyongyang by his secretary of state last month.

Washington wants to see concrete action toward denuclearization by North Korea before agreeing to a key goal of Pyongyang – declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

The conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving U.S.-led U.N. forces including South Korea technically still at war with the North.

South Korea is pinning high hopes on Kim’s remarks to Moon’s special envoys earlier this month that he wants to achieve denuclearization within Trump’s first term in office ending in early 2021.

“If North Korea-U.S. dialogue is restarted after this visit, it would have much significance in itself,” Moon said before his departure.

Underscoring the challenges ahead, North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun said on Tuesday “the responsibility falls squarely on the United States” for the stalled nuclear discussions.

“It is due to its nonsensical, irrational stubbornness that other issues can only be discussed after our country has completely verifiably, irreversibly dismantled our nuclear capabilities… without showing the intention to build trust including declaring the end of war,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

On Wednesday, Moon and Kim plan to hold a second day of official talks after which they are expected to unveil a joint statement, and a separate military pact designed to defuse tensions and prevent armed clashes. Moon will return home early Thursday.

Traveling with Moon are South Korean business tycoons, including Samsung scion Jay Y. Lee and the chiefs of SK Group and LG Group. They met North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Ryong Nam, who is in charge of economic affairs, although Seoul officials said they did not expect any specific joint economic projects to be agreed given extensive international sanctions.

The United States is pressing other countries to strictly observe U.N. sanctions aimed at choking off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

North Korea says it has destroyed its main nuclear and missile engine test site and has halted atomic and ballistic missile tests, but U.S. officials and analysts believe it is continuing to work on its weapons plans covertly.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Russia on Monday of “cheating” on U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Joyce Lee, Soyoung Kim and Pyongyang Press Corps; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Alex Richardson)

North Korea tells U.S. denuclearization talks may fall apart

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses members of his cabinet and the news media as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean officials have warned in a letter to the United States that denuclearization talks were “again at stake and may fall apart”, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The letter was delivered directly to U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and stated that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government felt that the process could not move forward.

“The U.S. is still not ready to meet (North Korean) expectations in terms of taking a step forward to sign a peace treaty,” CNN reported, citing sources.

The 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving U.S.-led U.N. forces technically still at war with North Korea.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un leave after signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un leave after signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

The North has long made clear that it sees an official end to the state of war as crucial to lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The United States has been reluctant to declare an end to the Korean War until after North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons program.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump called off a visit to North Korea by Pompeo after the latter received a belligerent letter from a senior North Korean official just hours after the trip was announced last week.

CNN reported that the letter was sent by the former head of North Korea’s spy agency, Kim Yong Chol, but it was not known how it was sent. The Washington Post said North Korea had been increasingly communicating through its U.N. mission.

CNN reported that the letter also mentioned that if a compromise could not be reached and the nascent talks crumble, North Korea could resume “nuclear and missile activities”.

‘PLOT’

On Sunday, North Korea’s state media accused the United States of “double-dealing” and “hatching a criminal plot” but did not mention Pompeo’s canceled visit.

The Washington Post said the exact contents of the message were unclear, but it was sufficiently belligerent that Trump and Pompeo decided to call off the planned trip.

The trip had been announced the previous day for this week and Pompeo had intended to introduce a newly named special envoy, Stephen Biegun, to his North Korean counterparts.

The White House referred queries on the Washington Post report to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In canceling Pompeo’s trip, Trump publicly acknowledged for the first time that his effort to get North Korea to denuclearize had stalled since his June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore.

U.S. intelligence and defense officials have repeatedly expressed doubts about North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons and they had not expected Pompeo’s trip to yield positive results.

A South Korea presidential spokesman said he was not in a position to comment on the authenticity of the letter but acknowledged that talks between Washington and Pyongyang were in a stalemate.

“With North Korea and the U.S. remaining stalemated, there is an even bigger need for an inter-Korea summit,” Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for the presidential Blue House told a briefing.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said this month his planned third summit with North Korea’s Kim next month would be another step towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and an end to the Korean War.

(Reporting by Mekhla Raina in BENGALURU, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON, Cynthia Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Peter Cooney, Robert Birsel)

U.S. says remains returned by North Korea likely American

United Nations Command Chaplain U.S. Army Col. Sam Lee performs a blessing of sacrifice and remembrance on the 55 boxes of remains thought to be of U.S. soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, returned by North Korea to the U.S., at the Osan Air Base in South Korea, July 27, 2018. U.S. Army/ Sgt. Quince Lanford/Handout via REUTERS

By Josh Smith

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (Reuters) – More than 50 boxes handed over by North Korea to the United States last week appear to hold human remains from the 1950-1953 Korean War and are likely American, according to an initial forensic analysis, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

A U.S. military transport aircraft on Friday flew the remains from the North Korean city of Wonsan, a first step in implementing an agreement reached at a landmark summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in June.

“There is no reason to doubt that they do relate to Korean War losses,” John Byrd, director of analysis for the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), told reporters at Osan air base in South Korea, just before the remains were due to be flown to Hawaii for further analysis and identification.

More than 7,700 U.S. troops remain unaccounted for from the Korea War. About 5,300 were lost in what is now North Korea.

Byrd said a single identification “dog tag” was also handed over by the North Koreans. The soldier’s family had been notified, though it was not clear if his remains were among those found, Byrd said.

Experts say positively identifying the decades-old remains could take anywhere from days to decades.

Still, the initial “field forensic review” indicates that the “remains are what North Korea said they were”, Byrd said.

The North Koreans provided enough specifics about where each suspected body was found that U.S. officials have matched them to specific battles fought from 1950 to 1951, though not necessarily individuals, he said.

A U.S. airwoman salutes during a repatriation ceremony for remains transferred by North Korea, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea August 1, 2018. Jung Yeon-je/Pool via REUTERS

A U.S. airwoman salutes during a repatriation ceremony for remains transferred by North Korea, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea August 1, 2018. Jung Yeon-je/Pool via REUTERS

“CHERISHED DUTY”

Dozens of American, South Korean and other soldiers and officials from U.N. countries that fought in the Korean War conducted a ceremony with full military honors before the remains were loaded into military transport aircraft for the flight to Hawaii on Wednesday.

The remains had been transferred from the small boxes they arrived in on Friday into full-sized caskets, draped with U.N. flags.

Officials from U.N.-allied nations laid wreaths, a military band played somber music, an honor guard fired a salute and troops saluted as the caskets sat in a hangar just off a runway.

“For the warrior, this is a cherished duty, a commitment made to one another before going into battle and passed on from one generation of warriors to the next,” said U.S. General Vincent Brooks, top commander of U.S. and U.N. forces in South Korea. “And for all in attendance, this is a solemn reminder that our work is not complete until all have been accounted for, no matter how long it takes to do so.”

DPAA deputy director Rear Admiral Jon Kreitz said he saw the remains transfer as an important step that will lead to more recovery operations in North Korea.

DIPLOMATIC GESTURE

The pledge to transfer war remains was seen as a goodwill gesture by Kim at the Singapore summit and was the most concrete agreement reached by the two sides so far.

While it has taken longer than some had hoped, a U.S. State Department official said the process had so far proceeded as expected, and the handover rekindled hopes for progress in other talks with North Korea aimed at its denuclearization.

Friday’s transfer of the remains coincided with the 65th anniversary of the 1953 armistice that ended fighting between North Korean and Chinese forces and South Korean and U.S.-led forces under the U.N. Command. The two sides remain technically at war because a peace treaty was never signed.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on July 15 that Washington and Pyongyang had agreed to recommence field operations in North Korea to search for the missing Americans.

The Pentagon said it was “absolutely” considering the possibility of sending personnel to North Korea for this purpose.

The United States and North Korea conducted joint searches from 1996 until 2005, when Washington halted the operations, citing concerns about the safety of its personnel as Pyongyang stepped up its nuclear program.

More than 400 caskets of remains found in North Korea were returned to the United States between the 1990s and 2005, with the bodies of some 330 other Americans also accounted for, according to the DPAA.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it expects Pyongyang to keep its commitment made at the June summit to give up its nuclear arms which it had developed for years in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Questions have arisen over Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearize after U.S. spy satellite material detected renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Trump thanks Kim as North Korea transfers remains of missing U.S. soldiers

A soldier carries a casket containing the remains of a U.S. soldier who was killed in the Korean War during a ceremony at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

By Joyce Lee and Eric Beech

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea transferred 55 small, flag-draped cases carrying the suspected remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War on Friday, officials said, a first step in implementing an agreement reached in a landmark summit in June.

The repatriation of the remains missing in the 1950-53 conflict is seen as a modest diplomatic coup for U.S. President Donald Trump as it was one of the agreements reached during his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore aimed primarily at securing the denuclearization of the North.

“After so many years, this will be a great moment for so many families. Thank you to Kim Jong Un,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

A White House statement earlier said: “We are encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change.”

A U.S. military transport plane flew to an airfield in North Korea’s northeastern city of Wonsan to bring the remains to Osan air base in South Korea, the White House statement said.

Soldiers in dress uniforms with white gloves were seen slowly carrying 55 small cases covered with the blue-and-white U.N. insignia, placing them one by one into silver vans waiting on the tarmac in Osan.

A U.N. honor guard carries a box containing remains believed to be from American servicemen killed during the 1950-53 Korean War after it arrived from North Korea, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Friday, July 27, 2018. Ahn Young-joon/Pool via Reuter

A U.N. honor guard carries a box containing remains believed to be from American servicemen killed during the 1950-53 Korean War after it arrived from North Korea, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Friday, July 27, 2018. Ahn Young-joon/Pool via Reuters

Straight-backed officers looked on next to the flags of the United States, South Korea and the United Nations.

A formal repatriation ceremony would be held at Osan on Wednesday, the White House said.

The remains would then be flown to Hawaii for further processing under the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the U.N. Command said in a statement.

The transfer of the remains coincided with the 65th anniversary of the 1953 armistice that ended fighting between North Korean and Chinese forces on one side and South Korean and U.S.-led forces under the U.N. Command on the other. The two Koreas are technically still at war because a peace treaty was never signed.

Kim paid tribute to the North’s Korean War “martyrs” and to Chinese soldiers killed in the conflict, state media said.

More than 7,700 U.S. troops who fought in the Korean War remain unaccounted for, with about 5,300 of those lost in what is now North Korea.

U.S. soldiers salute to vehicles transporting the remains of 55 U.S. soldiers who were killed in the Korean War at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

U.S. soldiers salute to vehicles transporting the remains of 55 U.S. soldiers who were killed in the Korean War at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

GOODWILL GESTURE

The pledge to transfer war remains was seen as a goodwill gesture by Kim at the June summit and, while it has taken longer than some U.S. officials had hoped, the handover will rekindle hopes for progress in nuclear talks.

Kim committed in a broad summit statement to work toward denuclearization but Pyongyang has offered no details.

South Korea welcomed the return of the remains, calling it “meaningful progress that could contribute to fostering trust” between Pyongyang and Washington.

The two Koreas agreed to hold general-level military talks on Tuesday to discuss ways to implement their own summit in April in which they vowed to defuse tensions, Seoul’s defense ministry said on Friday.

South Korea also said it plans to cut the number of troops from 618,000 to 500,000 by 2020 and the number of generals from 436 to 360 as part of military reforms.

The plan comes amid a thaw in relations between the two Koreas and days after the South pledged to reduce guard posts and equipment along the demilitarized zone on its border with the North.

It would spend 270.7 trillion won ($241.8 billion) on the reforms from 2019-23, which translates into a 7.5 percent rise in its annual defense budget, the ministry said in a statement.

Pyongyang has renewed calls for a declaration of the end of the Korean War, calling it the “first process for peace” and an important way Washington can add heft to security guarantees it has pledged in return for North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons.

The U.S. State Department says Washington is committed to building a peace mechanism to replace the armistice when North Korea has denuclearised.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a Senate hearing on Wednesday North Korea was continuing to produce fuel for nuclear bombs despite of its pledge to denuclearize, even as he argued that the United States was making progress in talks with Pyongyang.

Pompeo said North Korea had begun to dismantle a missile test site, something Kim also promised in Singapore, and called it “a good thing, steps forward”. However, he said Kim needed to follow through on his summit commitments to denuclearize.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning luxury goods said to include recreational sports equipment.

The United States has blocked a request by the International Olympic Committee to transfer sports equipment to North Korea so its athletes can participate in the Olympic Games, United Nations diplomats said on Thursday.

Before Friday’s transfer of remains, the United States and North Korea had worked on so-called joint field activities to recover Korean War remains from 1996-2005. Washington halted those operations, citing concerns about the safety of its personnel as Pyongyang stepped up its nuclear program.

More than 400 caskets of remains found in North Korea were returned to the United States between the 1990s and 2005, with the bodies of some 330 other Americans also accounted for, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Pentagon officials have said discussions with North Korea have included resuming field operations in the North to recover remains.

The program helped bring in vital hard currency to North Korea, which has been under U.S.-led sanctions for decades. However, reviving it could complicate U.S. efforts to persuade countries around the world to maintain economic pressure on Pyongyang over its ballistic and nuclear programs.

(Reporting by Eric Beech and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON and Joyce Lee in SEOUL; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

When to end the war? North Korea, U.S. at odds over path to peace

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shows the document, that he and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un signed acknowledging the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. At right is U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – Washington’s reluctance to declare an end to the Korean War until after North Korea abandons its nuclear arsenal may put it at odds not only with Pyongyang, but also with allies in South Korea.

The 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the U.S.-led United Nations forces technically still at war with North Korea.

Friday marks 65th anniversary of the truce, which will be commemorated by the United Nations Command in a ceremony in the fortified demilitarized zone that has divided the two Koreas since the war. North Korean veterans of the war, which left more than 1.2 million dead, will gather in Pyongyang for a conference.

In their April summit, the leaders of North and South Korea agreed to work this year with the United States and China, which also played a major role in the war, to replace the armistice with a peace agreement.

In June, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a statement saying they would seek “to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity,” using the initials of the North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kim has broadly committed to the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” if the United States and its allies drop their “hostile” policies and the North has made clear it sees an official end to the state of war as crucial to lowering tensions.

Many experts and officials in Washington, however, fear signing a peace deal first could erode the international pressure they believe led Kim to negotiate. It could also endanger the decades-long U.S. military alliance with South Korea, and may undermine the justification for the U.S. troops based on the peninsula.

“Broadly speaking, one side wants denuclearization first, normalization of relations later, and the other wants normalization of relations first, then denuclearization later,” said Christopher Green, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group.

North Korea says it has taken steps to halt its nuclear development, including placing a moratorium on missile and nuclear bomb testing, demolishing its only known nuclear test site, and dismantling a rocket facility.

American officials have praised those moves, but remain skeptical. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress on Wednesday North Korea was continuing to produce fuel for nuclear bombs.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said while “peace on the Korean Peninsula is a goal shared by the world,” the international community would not accept a nuclear armed North Korea.

“As we have stated before, we are committed to building a peace mechanism with the goal of replacing the Armistice agreement when North Korea has denuclearized,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

DOUBTS ON BOTH SIDES

In recent weeks Pyongyang has renewed calls for a declaration of the end of the war, calling it the “first process for peace” and a key way the United States can add heft to its guarantees of security.

“The adoption of the declaration on the termination of war is the first and foremost process in the light of ending the extreme hostility and establishing new relations between the DPRK and the U.S.,” North Korean state media said in a statement on Tuesday.

After Pompeo visited Pyongyang in June for talks, state media quoted a spokesman for the North’s Ministry of the Foreign Affairs criticizing the U.S. delegation for not mentioning the idea of a peace regime.

“It seems quite obvious that even if North Korea is negotiating sincerely, they aren’t going to be willing to give up their nuclear capacity in the absence of a peace system that gives them regime security,” Green said.

Many officials in Washington appeared concerned that an early declaration of peace could lead to the collapse of the U.S.-South Korea alliance with calls for U.S. troops to leave the Korean peninsula, he added.

OTHER PLAYERS

South Korean leaders in 1953 opposed the idea of a truce that left the peninsula divided, and were not signatories to the armistice. The treaty was signed by the commander of North Korea’s army, the American commander of the U.N. Command, and the commander of the “Chinese People’s volunteers”.

While South Korean officials say they are committed to the full denuclearization of North Korea, they have shown more flexibility in the timing of a peace agreement than their U.S. allies.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said on Tuesday it is possible to declare an end to war this year.

“We are in consultations with the North and the United States in that direction,” he told a parliamentary session, adding that a three-way declaration would be part of an initial phase of denuclearization.

China says it is open to participating in the process.

Meeting North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho in Pyongyang on Thursday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said China supported the reconciliation process between the North and the United States, China’s Foreign Ministry said.

China is willing to work hard with all sides to promote the process of establishing a “peace mechanism” for the Korean peninsula, Kong added, without elaborating.

(Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez)

From nuclear weapons to peace: Inside the Korean summit declaration

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un share a toast at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuter

By Josh Smith and Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea made ambitious promises for peace on Friday, including to formally end the Korean War this year, but made only a vague commitment to “complete decentralization of the Korean peninsula” without specifics on how that key goal would be achieved.

The declaration signed at the historic summit between the leaders of the two Koreas also did not mention several issues that have been prominent in the past, including human rights in North Korea and joint economic projects.

As the focus now shifts to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s expected meeting in May or June with U.S. President Donald Trump, here is a summary of key issues in the agreement:

NUCLEAR WEAPONS

North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs have become central to the conflict, and many observers were hoping the summit would provide more insight into whether Kim Jong Un is truly willing to give up those weapons.

Both South Korea and the United States say they share the goal of forcing North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms, and the Trump administration says there will be no reduction in pressure on Pyongyang until it has completely denuclearized.

Any economic relations between the two Koreas are limited by sanctions imposed over the programs.

In the agreement, the two Koreas “confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete decentralization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula” and “agreed to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities in this regard”.

Such language is similar to past declarations, however, and South Korea offered no additional details beyond saying it would closely cooperate with the United States and the international community on the issue.

“It largely recycles the aspirational language of preceding Inter-Korean documents,” said Daniel Russel, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia. “It falls short of the explicit commitments to decentralization in some past declarations.”

Past efforts to entice Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program have failed in part due to North Korean demands the United States withdraw its troops from the peninsula and remove its “nuclear umbrella” of support for the South. South Korea has said Kim may be willing to compromise on this traditional sticking point, but no new details were announced at the summit.

PEACE DEAL

A concrete goal outlined in the declaration was the formal ending the state of war that has existed since the 1950-53 Korean War was halted with a truce, not a treaty.

South Korea and a U.S.-led U.N. force are technically still at war with North Korea and the idea of an official peace deal to change that is not something that can be resolved by the Koreas alone. So the declaration calls for meetings with the United States and possibly China, which were both involved in the conflict.

South Korean leaders at the time opposed the idea of a truce that left the peninsula divided, and were not signatories to the armistice, which was officially signed by the commander of North Korea’s army, the American commander of the U.N. Command and the commander of the “Chinese People’s volunteers”, who were not officially claimed by Beijing at the time.

North and South Korea have seriously discussed the idea before. In 1992, the two sides agreed to “endeavor together to transform the present state of armistice into a solid state of peace”.

The last inter-Korean summit in October 2007 concluded with a declaration by the two Koreas to “recognize the need to end the current armistice regime and build a permanent peace regime” and “to work together to advance the matter of having the leaders of the three or four parties directly concerned to convene on the Peninsula and declare an end to the war”.

FAMILY VISITS

Reunions between families divided by the war and the border are an emotional issue. The two sides agreed to hold “reunion programs” on Aug. 15, the day both Koreas celebrate their independence from Japanese colonization.

The last family visits were at the end of 2015, but the program fell apart amid souring relations.

After Moon took office last May, his administration quickly asked that the visits resume, but North Korea never officially responded.

North Korean state media implied that the program could be resumed if South Korea sent back a dozen North Korean waitresses who defected to the South after working at a restaurant in China, but that demand appears to have been dropped.

DEMILITARIZED ZONE

The DMZ, which snakes for 240 km (150 miles) along the 38th parallel, was drawn in the 1953 armistice that ended three years of bitter fighting. The zone is 4 km (2.5 miles) wide, and has become an unlikely tourist attraction.

Friday’s declaration said each side would cease propaganda broadcasts, hold regular military meetings, and take other measures to reduce tensions along the border and turn the DMZ into a “peace zone”.

“Demilitarizing” the DMZ could also mean the removal of guard posts and landmines.

INTER-KOREAN COMMUNICATION

After previously establishing a “hotline” between the two presidents’ offices, the two Koreas pledged to increase direct inter-Korean exchanges and dialogue, including between lower-level political officials.

The two Koreas will also set up a communications office in Kaesong in North Korea, although the timing for that was not specified.

The countries’ defense officials will meet in May, and Moon plans to visit Pyongyang later in the year for another summit.

Moon and Kim also agreed to hold “regular meetings and direct telephone conversations” and “frequent and candid discussions”.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Awkward diplomacy on show as ‘peace’ Games get underway

General view of performers during the opening ceremony.

By James Pearson and Hyunjoo Jin

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – The Winter Olympics sparked to life in a vivid, colorful ceremony of fire and ice in South Korea on Friday, though the diplomacy was tougher to choreograph in the stadium where leaders from nations that are sworn enemies sat close together.

South Korea, which is using the Pyeongchang Games to break the ice with North Korea, seated its presidential couple alongside U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, with two of the North’s most senior officials sitting in the row behind.

President Moon Jae-in, who wants to harness the Olympic spirit to pave the way for talks over the North’s nuclear and missile program, warmly shook hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s smiling sister as well as the North’s nominal head of state.

The South is still technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, and the United States and North Korea have recently swapped nuclear threats. Pence vowed only this week to tighten sanctions on the North.

Underlining Moon’s efforts to re-engage with the North, the opening ceremony followed the story line of children wandering through a mythical landscape and discovering a world where people live in peace and harmony.

The Olympics have provided some respite from years of tense relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, though just hours before the ceremony hundreds of anti-North Korean protesters scuffled with riot police outside the stadium, burning North Korean flags and pictures of its leader, Kim Jong Un.

South Korea’s frigid February, where temperatures have plummeted to minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at night, has come as a shock to the system for athletes and visitors alike in the leadup to these Games, prompting concerns about hypothermia at the opening ceremony.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Opening Ceremony – Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium- Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 9, 2018 - Performers during the opening ceremony.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Opening Ceremony – Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium- Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 9, 2018 – Performers during the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Phil Noble

The weather was a little milder than forecast on Friday, but spectators still huddled near heaters, holding hot packs and slurping down steaming fishcake soup to ward off the chills.

Bundled up in a scarf, mask and knitted hat, with hot packs tucked into her knee blanket, office worker Shin Hye-sook said she and her three colleagues were coping with the cold.

“It’s okay unless the wind blows,” said the 60-year-old. “We’re sitting as close as we can and trying not to move a lot to save our energy.”

LONG WAIT FINALLY OVER

Pyeongchang has waited a long time for this moment.

The alpine town first bid for the 2010 Games but narrowly lost out to Vancouver, and suffered similar heartbreak when it was beaten to the 2014 Olympics by Sochi.

After announcing its arrival on the international stage by hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics, South Korea now wants to show the world just how far it has come over the last 30 years with a Games showcasing its culture and technological prowess.

According to Olympic tradition, the Greek contingent headed the parade of athletes into the open-air stadium, followed by the other delegations in order according to the Korean alphabet.

Pence stood to welcome the U.S. athletes as the Korean pop hit Gangnam Style blared around the stadium, sparking the ‘Horse Dance’ in the crowd and among the volunteers.

The moment failed to elicit even a smile from the two senior North Korean officials in the VIPs box, however, as they sat stony-faced in black fluffy hats and long coats.

Elsewhere in the stadium, a Kim Jong Un impersonator was not made as welcome as the North Koreans in the VIP box and was ejected by security. “Well is my sister getting the same treatment?” he demanded to know.

As the athletes made their way around the track, one of the biggest cheers was reserved for muscle-bound Tongan Pita Taufatofua, who repeated his famed Rio Games entrance by marching in shirtless, oiled up and wearing a traditional skirt — this time in sub-zero temperatures.

Another flag-bearer who eschewed warm clothing was Bermuda’s Tucker Murphy wore the territory’s traditional red shorts.

Samaneh Beyrami Baher blinked back tears at the head of Iran’s four-strong athletic delegation, and minutes later the crowd erupted as athletes from North and South Korea marched together under the unification flag for the first time at an Olympics since 2006.

A contingent of North Korean cheerleaders greeted the athletes by waving a controversial version of the flag depicting disputed islands known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

Norio Maruyama, press secretary at Japan’s Foreign Ministry, said he had not seen the flag so he did not want to comment. But he said the Games were a festival of peace and he did not want to undermine that aspect.

(Writing by Peter Rutherford; Additional reporting by Jane Chung and So Young Kim; Editing by Mark Bendeich)