U.S., North Korea in Bangkok for talks on war remains

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 17, 2011 6:08 PM
U.S., North Korea in Bangkok for talks on war remains

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. and North Korean officials hold talks in Thailand on Tuesday on resuming recovery of the remains of American soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The talks in Bangkok come amid a renewed push to revive negotiations with regional powers on disabling secretive North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. delegation will be headed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Newberry and include officials from the State Department and Pentagon agencies responsible missing personnel, the Pentagon said on Monday.

"Accounting for Americans missing in action is a stand-alone humanitarian matter, not tied to any other issue between the two countries," said the statement.

The Bangkok meeting had only remains on the agenda, it said. But there is growing speculation U.S. President Barack Obama, approaching the final year of his current four-year term, may initiate talks with North Korea on curbing its nuclear ambitions.

The decision to hold talks on resuming recovery of the remains of American soldiers from the Korean War could be a hint at U.S. willingness to engage.

Other signals may include whether the United States offers North Korea food aid -- a decision U.S. officials say is not affected by political factors -- and whether U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth may hold a new round of talks with North Korea.

In July, Bosworth held two days of talks with a veteran North Korean nuclear negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, in New York -- their first such contact since 2009.

More than 7,900 U.S. soldiers are listed as missing from the Korean War, with some 5,500 estimated to be buried in the reclusive North. Joint recovery efforts were halted in May 2005 over concerns about the uncertain environment created by North Korea's nuclear programs.

The North has long sought to sign a peace treaty with Washington to formally end decades of enmity since the war, which ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.

(Reporting by Paul Eckert and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by John O'Callaghan)