North Korea failed to show up Thursday for talks with U.S. officials on returning the remains of American war dead from the Korean War in the early 1950s, a new sign of tension between the two countries.
American officials had expected North Korean negotiators to appear for discussions at the Korean Peninsula's demilitarized zone after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thought he had reached an agreement for a meeting when he held discussions last week in Pyongyang about North Korea's pledge to end its nuclear weapons program.
But U.S. Defense Department and United Nations Command officials were left waiting in the DMZ's Joint Security Area, with no immediate explanation for the North Korean absence, according to South Korean's Yonhap news agency and U.S. officials who spoke to CNN and The Washington Post.
"We were ready," one official said. "It just didn't happen. They didn't show."
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said North Korean military officials were now seeking a meeting Sunday on repatriating the remains of the war dead, with Pyongyang wanting to discuss the issue with a U.S. military general.
At last month's Singapore summit, in an agreement with U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised the "immediate repatriation of those already identified." The U.S. Defense Department has estimated that 7,700 troops are still unaccounted for from the war, with 5,300 believed to have been killed north of the 38th parallel, the border between North and South Korea.
After Pompeo's talks with North Korean officials last week attempting to nail down details of how and when Pyongyang plans to carry out Kim's pledge to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, North Korea called the talks "regrettable" and said the U.S. demands were "gangster-like."
In Brussels Thursday at the end of a NATO summit, Pompeo dismissed suggestions that the talks were a failure.
"We had a productive conversation," the U.S. top diplomat said, but added, "There remains a great deal of work to do."
He said that North Korean negotiators made "a commitment consistent with what President Trump was able to achieve with Chairman Kim, which was they intend to denuclearize, they're going to accomplish it and now the task is to get it implemented."