(August 15, 2017) Family members of American service members who have been missing in action since the Korean War are being thwarted in efforts to have remains returned to the United States. The administration of President Donald Trump is continuing a policy followed by two previous administrations.
Refusing to engage in military or diplomatic relations with North Korea had been the policy of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Now Trump has followed suit, ignoring an appeal made last week by families of missing service members who have been told by the North Korean government that 120 sets of remains are ready to be returned, according to Politico, a publication that covers politics in the capital.
“Returning these long-missing American soldiers home will be a onetime event,” said Rick Downes, the president of the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs. He said no interaction between the two governments was necessary for the return.
He is the son of Lt. Hal Downes, who was lost in a bombing mission over North Korea in January 1952.
Relatives of missing service members from the Cold War era were at the Pentagon last week for an event. About 7,740 U.S. military personnel are missing from the Korean War, with most of them lost in North Korea.
North Korea offered to return the remains discovered over the years if the U.S. government would acknowledge the humanitarian nature of the gesture, according to Politico.
A State Department spokeswoman told Politico, “The U.S. government sees this as a priority issue and would hope to raise it early with the [Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea] if we get to the point of resuming dialogue, but it is incumbent on the DPRK to take the steps necessary to reopen dialogue.”
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and has acted as an unofficial intermediary to North Korea, said accepting North Korea’s offer to return the remains could have broader impact as the two countries exchange rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons.
“It could be a pathway to breaking the ice with North Korea,” he said. “It could be a breakthrough of soft power and I would urge the Trump administration to consider it.”