(WASHINGTON) — In the first tangible fallout from North Korea’s announced plans for a satellite launch next month, the Pentagon has suspended a program to look for the remains of the 5,300 Americans classified as missing in North Korea during the Korean War. Both the U.S. and North Korea had agreed in October to restart the program after a previous suspension that lasted seven years.
The State Department has been saying a launch would be a deal-breaker for the agreement reached with the U.S. just a few weeks ago and would, more importantly, put 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid at risk. But suspending the search program sends a tangible message to North Korea that the U.S. is serious about its concerns.
Word of the suspension came at Wednesday’s Pentagon briefing by Pentagon press secretary George Little. “We have suspended that effort because we believe that North Korea has not acted appropriately in recent days and weeks and that it’s important for them to return to the standards of behavior that the international community has called for. We do hope at some point to be able to re-engage the effort.”
The agreement reached in October to restart the program called for the first U.S. team to arrive in North Korea later this month. A Defense official says no U.S. personnel had arrived at the time the suspension took effect. That official says that the U.S. informed North Korea of its decision to suspend the program Tuesday night and that it went into effect Wednesday.
There are actually 7,965 Americans still categorized as missing from the Korean War, but 5,300 of them are believed to be on North Korean territory.
A Defense official says that the U.S. had planned to send a small advance team in mid-March to be followed by four search operations in April, one of them to two areas near the Chosin Reservoir. The Chosin Reservoir was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War, and it is believed that 2,000 American soldiers and Marines went missing at that location.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Michael Pearson, Faith Karimi and Ian Lee, CNN
Greg Botelho, CNN Newswire