WASHNGTON — One year ago, the families of military personnel missing from the Korean War gathered in Arlington, Va., with their highest hopes in years.
A summit in June 2918 between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un led to Pyongyang sending 55 containers of possible remains of missing U.S. service personnel to Washington.
One missing soldier was quickly identified just before the start of last’s years Korean War and Cold War Annual Government Briefing, adding excitement that more remains would be identified and more remains would be provided by the North Koreans.
In fact, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) continues to identify the remains. Officials there told TMN that eight individuals have been identified from the 55 boxes of remains that North Korea turned over last year.
There is no such glee at this year’s briefing, occurring Thursday and Friday.
However, when negotiations with North Korean stalled, Pyongyang stopped all cooperation and access for further searches for remains. In September, DPAA officials said they hoped searches would resume in the spring of 2019.
None have resumed.
“What we are concerned about is that there has been a stall in diplomacy,” Randall Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, told family members of those missing in action on Thursday.
Schriver said Trump pushed Kim on the issue when the two met this summer at the DMZ separating the two Koreas. He said State Department teams remain in Thailand ready to resume talks focused on either a unilateral search by the United States or the “equally important” joint field operations.
“We are hopeful we will be able to resume our dialogue with North Korea soon,” he said.
Before Schriver spoke, dozens of family members rose to speak in remembrance of missing relatives — many noting how, as they age, they are passing the torch of determination to sons, daughters, nieces and nephews.
According to DPAA, of the roughly 7,700 U.S. service personnel unaccounted for from the Korean War, about 5,300 of those soldiers were lost in North Korea. The DPAA is the Pentagon entity that works to recover remains from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and then identify when possible.
Joint U.S.-North Korean military search teams recovered from North Korea the remains of 229 U.S. service members between 1990 and 2005. The searches ended because of political and military tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson, who negotiated receiving remains from North Korea in 2007, told family members his private organization continues to meet with North Koreans informally and through personal contacts to keep the dialogue going.
“They are not talking right now,” Richardson said. “They are mad, they are bobbing and waving, they are making threats.”
Richardson said his group was set to visit on-site in North Korea in search of possible remains before Trump and Kim met in Hanoi earlier this year. However, he said the State Department did not grant the travel waiver needed.
“They (the U.S. government) said ‘Let’s see how Hanoi goes.’ So instead of having an achievement leading to the summit, so the summit (failed) and the invitation lapsed,’ Richardson said.
He urged the search for remains be decoupled from the nuclear issue and considered a humanitarian issue.