WASHINGTON The United States on Thursday rebuffed a North Korean offer to reopen talks on finding U.S. soldiers missing since the Korean War, saying Pyongyang must first resume discussions on ending its nuclear ambitions.
Earlier, a spokesman for the U.S. Forces Korea said North Korea had met the U.N. Command on Wednesday in the Panmunjom truce village inside the Demilitarized Zone to discuss searching for remains of U.S. soldiers in North Korea.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States believed the North must first return to six-party talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States on its nuclear program.
North Korea, which has twice tested nuclear devices, has refused for the past year to return to the six-party talks under which it previously agreed to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for diplomatic and economic incentives.
"Our foremost interest right now is to get North Korea back into the six-party process to address ... the obligations that they have previously committed to regarding denuclearization," Crowley told reporters.
Crowley said the United States had an interest in finding the remains of the roughly 8,100 U.S. servicemen not accounted for from the 1950-1953 Korean War and noted that the North has recently repeated its interest in pursuing a peace treaty.
"All of these things are possible, but first and foremost we need to see North Korea back in the six-party process," the spokesman said. "We think that's the right framework for any number of issues to be addressed."
The two Koreas remain technically at war since the Korean war ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty and they and share one of the world's most militarized borders.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), the U.S. unit charged with finding remains of war dead, sent 33 missions to North Korea from 1996 to 2005, leading to the identification of more than 20 sets of remains, U.S. military officials said.
The United States in 2005 ended the recovery missions as tensions were rising in nuclear negotiations with North Korea.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)