US President Donald Trump tweeted his thanks to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Thursday, after the possible remains of American war dead killed in the Korean War arrived back on US soil.
“Thank you to Chairman Kim Jong Un for keeping your word & starting the process of sending home the remains of our great and beloved missing fallen! I am not at all surprised that you took this kind action. Also, thank you for your nice letter - l look forward to seeing you soon!” Trump tweeted in the early hours of Thursday morning.
On Wednesday 55 cases of what are believed to be the remains of Americans who were killed or captured during the Korean War were transported to a military base in Hawaii, after they were handed over to US officials who had traveled to North Korea last week.
The cases were examined by American experts who concluded they were likely to be American, and likely Korean War combatants.
On Thursday morning White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed that Trump had received the letter from Kim, “A letter to President Trump from Chairman Kim was received on August 1. The ongoing correspondence between the two leaders is aimed at following up on their meeting in Singapore and advancing the commitments made in the US-DPRK joint statement.”
‘A great first step’
There are thousands of Americans who remain unaccounted for after the war, which began when the North invaded the South in 1950. A number of US war dead are believed to be buried in mass graves in North Korea, not far from the border with the South.
Many US families have been waiting on closure for decades, not knowing what became of their loved ones. Since 1990, North Korea has only repatriated the remains of 340.
Vice President Mike Pence took part in the Honorable Carry Ceremony on Wednesday where the remains were delivered in Hawaii. In his remarks he said that more than 8,000 Americans had gone missing or were killed during the war.
Pence mentioned that along with the denuclearization commitment Trump had obtained from Kim during the two leaders’ historic summit in Singapore on June 12, Trump had also “secured a promise from Chairman Kim to return the remains of all fallen US service members lost in North Korea.”
“We see today as tangible progress to achieve peace on the Korean peninsula,” Pence said.
The authenticity of the remains has been hailed as a gesture of good faith on the part of the North Korean leader.
“This is a great first step in terms of bringing a bunch of fallen Americans home,” said Rear Admiral Jon Kreitz, the deputy director of the agency in charge of identifying the remains, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
“We look forward to potentially pursuing (remains recovery) operations in North Korea in the future and we’re very hopeful. Again, this is just a great first step in building some confidence and building a relationship.”
Next Trump-Kim Summit?
During their meeting in Singapore in June President Trump floated the possibility of an invitation to the young North Korean autocrat to visit him at the White House.
Since then, however, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has admitted to lawmakers that North Korea has shown little indication it is moving towards denuclearization.
Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relation Committee in late July, Pompeo acknowledged that North Korean factories “continue to produce fissile material” used in making nuclear weapons.
Pompeo also told the committee that moving toward concrete denuclearization is “a process,” adding that it “will definitely take time.”
The commander of US Forces Korea, General Vincent Brooks said at the recent Aspen Security Forum that North Korea’s “production capability is still intact.
“So we haven’t seen a complete shutdown of production yet. We have not seen the removal of fuel rods. These types of things tell us that there are steps that still must be taken on the road to denuclearization,” Brooks said.
CNN’s Josh Berlinger and Betsy Klein contributed reporting to this story.