SEOUL, North Korea has reportedly proposed holding general-level military talks with the United Nations Command (UNC) over the repatriation of remains of American troops killed during the 1950-53 Korean War, sources here said Thursday.
North Korea asked the UNC Military Armistice Commission for general-level military talks on Sunday, according to sources, after it failed to show up at a meeting with the United States. Representatives of the U.S. and North Korea were expected to have working-level talks at the inter-Korean border truce village of Panmunjom on Thursday to hash out the details of the repatriation, but the discussions did not occur.
With the meeting not taking place, the UNC reportedly made a phone call and North Koreans responded by saying that they needed to upgrade the "level" of the talks.
"North Korea apparently wants a U.S. general to appear at the table to quickly finalize the repatriation issue," the source said. "It is likely that military generals from the U.S. and North Korea will take part in the meeting."
The UNC told the U.S. defense ministry about North Korea's proposal and is waiting for Washington's answer, the source added.
"We have to see the U.S. defense ministry's response, but the UNC reportedly gave a positive signal to North Korea, so there is a good chance of the talks taking place on Sunday," the source said.
If realized, they will be the first general-level military talks between North Korea and the UNC since March 2009.
Earlier Thursday, a diplomatic source here said the U.S. and North Korea were still in talks to set a date for working-level dialogue over the repatriation of remains of American troops.
"The U.S. side had had discussions with the North with an aim to hold the talks as early as July 12, but it appeared that the North was not ready for the talks," the source told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.
"The two sides are currently communicating to determine when to meet. There appears to be a possibility that the U.S. could make some announcement soon," he added.
At the June 12 Singapore summit, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un committed to recovering the remains of fallen American troops, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
On June 23, the U.S. Forces Korea said that it had moved 100 wooden "temporary transit cases" to the border to prepare for the remains' delivery. Separately, it has moved 158 metal coffins to Osan Air Base in Gyeonggi Province.
Observers said the repatriation, should it materialize, could give a boost to the Washington-Pyongyang talks on denuclearization.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to make any significant progress in fleshing out the North's denuclearization process during his third visit to Pyongyang last week.
Earlier in the day, an official at Seoul's foreign ministry voiced expectation that the June summit agreement, including the repatriation, can quickly be enforced so as to achieve the goal of the complete denuclearization of the peninsula.
Since 1990, the communist state has reportedly returned 629 sets of remains to the U.S.
Source: Yonhap News Agency