Seoul: North Korean and US military officials met Sunday to discuss repatriation of the remains of American troops killed during the Korean War, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
Returning the remains of the US soldiers who perished during the 1950-53 conflict was part of a deal signed by the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump during their landmark summit last month.
The latest talks began at the truce village of Panmunjom on the inter-Korean border, according to the South’s Yonhap news agency.
In a statement, Pompeo said the meeting was “productive and co-operative and resulted in firm commitments.” He added that further talks would start on Monday to arrange details including the transfer of remains already held in North Korea.
“Additionally, both sides agreed to re-commence field operations in the DPRK to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who never returned home,” he said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
TV news footage earlier on Sunday showed vehicles with US army plates and believed to be carrying American officials heading to the heavily fortified border.
Pompeo, who visited Pyongyang earlier this month to flesh out details of the denuclearisation deal signed by Kim and Trump, had previously said that the meeting would take place on or around last Thursday.
The North did not show up at the border on Thursday but contacted the United States on the same day to offer to meet on Sunday, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last week.
“We will be ready,” she said.
Dozens of wooden coffins to carry the American remains have reportedly been brought to the southern side of the border in recent weeks.
The White House has hailed the summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore as a major breakthrough toward disarming the isolated, nuclear-armed North in exchange for easing of sanctions and other help with economic development.
Pompeo met with Kim’s key aide during his latest trip to Pyongyang but as soon as he left, the North’s foreign ministry berated him over his “unilateral and gangster-like” demands.
Trump on Thursday signaled optimism however, unveiling a letter from Kim in which the young leader hailed the “start of a meaningful journey” and tweeting “Great progress being made!”