After a six-year hiatus, the Pentagon has agreed to negotiate with North Korea on resuming an effort to recover remains of an estimated 5,500 US service members unaccounted for from the 1950-53 Korean War.
Negotiations began yesterday in Bangkok, Thailand. The Pentagon offered no explanation for seeking to resume a recovery operation that Washington suspended in May 2005. The decision comes as ties between the Koreas have begun to improve after attacks last year blamed on the North killed 50 South Koreans.
The Pentagon statement said the talks will address a "stand-alone humanitarian matter" and are not linked to other issues, which include most prominently the North Korean nuclear programme and US-supported international sanctions aimed at stopping North Korean weapons proliferation.
The US and North Korea have no formal diplomatic ties, and relations have been rocky in recent years. During a visit to Washington last week by the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, President Barack Obama had strong words for communist-governed North Korea, saying that if it "continues to ignore its international obligations it will invite even more pressure and isolation".
Still, there have been recent signs that relations are getting better. Diplomats from the US and North and South Korea have met to discuss resuming international nuclear disarmament negotiations. There have also been a flurry of cultural exchanges between the Koreas.