Bipartisan Delegation Urges North Koreans to Shutdown Nuclear Reactor, Resume Negotiations
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson secured assurances today from the Panmunjom Mission of the Korean People's Army (KPA) that North Korea will turn over the remains of six U.S. soldiers killed during the Korean War. The KPA is also turning over the identities of three of the soldiers based on dog-tags found with the remains in the Unsan region of North Korea.
Governor Richardson and former US Secretary of Veteran Affairs Anthony Principi, co-heads of a bipartisan delegation, met with General Ri Chan Bok, North Korea's commanding general at the demilitarized zone, about the remains of the US soldiers. General Ri pledged to turn over the remains of the six soldiers to the UN Command and Military Armistice Commission on Wednesday. A formal ceremony marking the transfer of remains will be held Thursday in Seoul. An arrival honor guard ceremony is scheduled for later Thursday in Honolulu, where the remains will be DNA tested.
"This is a very positive gesture on the part of the North Korean government," Governor Richardson said following the meeting with General Ri. "Hopefully it will help heal the wounds from the Korean War and start a process to bring closure to the thousands of American families awaiting word of their loved ones who perished."
Governor Richardson and his delegation met with General Ri at Paekhwawon, the official state guest house for visiting heads of state. Governor Richardson and his delegation, which is in North Korea till Wednesday to oversee the transfer of soldier's remains, are staying Paekhwawon at the invitation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Governor Richardson has been working on the issue of soldier's remains for several years with the help of Dr. K.A. "Tony" Namkung, a senior advisor to the Governor. During Monday's meeting General Ri said Governor Richardson's involvement was a factor in sending North Korean soldiers to the Unsan region during recent months to look for additional remains. The remains of one soldier had been found in October 2006 and Ri ordered the 10 North Korean soldiers to the region to search for more remains, he told Governor Richardson. The bipartisan delegation also includes Dr. Victor Cha, Director of Asian Affairs of the National Security Council, James McDougal former Deputy Assistant Secretary, and David Ellis, Principal Director of the MIA Remains office of the Department of Defense.
Earlier today, Governor Richardson met with a North Korean delegation led by Kim Ki Gwan the Vice Foreign Minister in charge of US affairs and head of North Korean delegation to the 6-party talks. During that meeting Governor Richardson pressed North Korean leaders to observe the 60 day deadline called for in the February 13th Initial Actions agreement to shutdown and seal the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Governor Richardson also urged the North Koreans to reconvene the six-party talks in order to discuss the next phase of disablement of the nuclear reactor and North Korea's obligations to declare an inventory of all nuclear activities.