Amid the din of discussion about denuclearization and concessions, veterans groups are praising President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for taking a step toward closure for the families of thousands of missing Korean War service members.
There are still 5,300 American service members missing whose remains are believed to be in North Korea – 65 years after the end of the Korean War.
“The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified,” reads point No. 4 from the joint statement signed by Trump and Kim.
Veterans of Foreign Wars, a group that advocates on behalf of all veterans, had lobbied Trump ahead of the summit to address the POW/MIA (prisoner of war/missing in action) issue with Kim during their meeting.
“The VFW salutes President Trump for bringing this issue to the table, and we thank the North Korean leader for agreeing to it,” Keith Harman, the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a statement. “Now the hard work to bring the initiative to fruition begins.”
Most of the remains are located in mass graves, Joe Davis, a Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesperson, told TIME. Because of North Korea’s variable seasons, which include cold and dry winters, Davis said the group hopes the recovery effort will yield full skeletal remains with identification cards still attached to uniforms.
“In the macro sense, denuclearization is a great thing,” Davis said. “In the micro sense, it’s about the families whose loved ones fought and died and have remained in North Korea.”
It’s not the first effort to repatriate the remains. Between 1990 and 2005, an agreement between the U.S. and North Korea to repatriate unaccounted for service members led to the recovery of 229 remains and the identification of several others. The agreement ended following North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and safety issues surrounding the recovery teams sent from the U.S. to collect the remains, according to the Associated Press.
While it remains unclear how successful the move to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula will be, the agreement between Trump and Kim to repatriate the remains could lead to tangible outcomes for families of the missing soldiers, Davis said.
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