North Korea hasn’t returned U.S. soldiers’ remains despite Trump’s claims

The nation previously promised to return the remains as part of a larger diplomatic agreement between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

North Korea hasn't returned U.S. soldiers' remains, weeks after Trump bragged it did. (Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korea hasn't returned U.S. soldiers' remains, weeks after Trump bragged it did. (Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korean officials skipped out on a planned meeting with U.S. officials to discuss the return of remains belonging to American soldiers killed in the Korean War, CNN reported Thursday. The meeting was scheduled to be held in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, but North Korean officials simply never showed up.

According to a senior U.S. official who spoke with CNN, the North Koreans gave no explanation for their absence.

The snub comes weeks after President Trump bragged at a rally in Duluth, Minnesota that North Korea had already returned the remains of at least 200 U.S. soldiers, and was planning to return more.

“We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains,” he said, declaring his diplomatic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 a victory. “In fact, today already 200 have been sent back.”


Speaking more broadly, he added, “I got along with Kim Jong Un. …And that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. These people…said, ‘I can’t believe it. He’s giving away so much.’ You know what I gave away? A meeting.”

Many experts have since pointed out the meeting was a relative bust, with the United States appearing conciliatory to a genocidal dictator, while receiving no firm commitments from Kim in return. The pact between the two leaders, details only that the two nations will “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The administration later clarified that U.S. officials had sent 100 transport cases for those remains to North Korea, but noted formal plans for their return and transfer had not yet been established. As of this week, no progress had been made.

“The North Koreans were just messing around, not serious about moving forward,” the senior U.S. official told CNN Thursday, referring to the scrapped logistical meeting.


The stalled negotiations come amid increased frustration from North Korean officials over the Trump administration’s diplomatic tactics and nuclear requests.

On Saturday, following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement through the state-run Korea Central News Agency that officials in Pyongyang were upset with U.S. demands, calling them “the same cancerous ones that the past U.S. administrations had insisted on.”

“The U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization,” the spokesman said. “…The high-level talks this time brought us in a dangerous situation where we may be shaken in our unshakable will for denuclearization, rather than consolidating trust between the DPRK and the U.S.”

Hours earlier, Pompeo — who has made several trips to Pyongyang in recent months, both ahead of Trump’s visit and since — had given a stark contradictory account of that meeting, describing the talks as “good-faith negotiations” and claiming the two nations had made significant progress on “almost all of the central issues.”

Analysts told the Washington Post such a disparity was unsurprising.

“They’re upping the ante for what they want, and downplaying what we want,” said former U.S. North Korea emissary and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has worked on North Korean prisoner releases in the past.


He added, “This is typical. They’re very skilled at sending messages. And their message is that this negotiation is not going to be easy. And it’s going to be very costly. So you’d better be prepared to deliver.”

North Korea, in the meantime, has been doing little to hold up its end of the bargain, as struck between Trump and Kim in June. According to analysis by the Stimson Center’s 38 North, a monitoring website that uses satellite imagery to track North Korea’s nuclear movements, the country has continued to build up its nuclear research facilities in the weeks since the Trump-Kim summit, despite Trump’s promise that Kim had already begun the process of denuclearization.

Trump has continually portrayed the negotiations and ongoing nuclear talks with North Korea in a positive light, in the days since the June 12 summit, ignoring any evidence to the contrary.

According to the Washington Post, on Wednesday, during a dinner with global leaders at the NATO summit in Brussels, the president repeatedly bragged about his meeting with Kim, saying, “They have 1,000 cameras at the Oscars, and we had 6,000 cameras in Singapore. The buzz was fantastic.”

That same day, Trump also tweeted a photo of a letter sent to the White House from Pyongyang, in which Kim called the nuclear talks “extraordinary” and said he believed the negotiations would “[open] up a new future between the DPRK and the U.S.”

The letter, dated July 6, was notably sent prior to Pompeo’s unsuccessful meeting with North Korean leaders on Saturday.