US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday he thinks North Korea was "perplexed" by the high priority the United States placed on retrieving the remains of American troops from the North.
Pompeo made the remark at a national convention of veterans in Orlando, Florida, as he spoke of the Trump administration's commitment to taking care of the American people.
"I remember sitting in the room negotiating with my counterpart. He's a former senior North Korean general, and I remember talking to him," he said, apparently referring to his conversations with Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party's central committee, ahead of the first summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June 2018.
"And I think he was perplexed that we put this as the first among the items we wanted to talk about," he said. "Every one of you understands why we put that first and why we'll continue to work on this. And we will not stop working on this until every one of our fallen heroes and their remains have been returned to the United States of America."
The Singapore summit produced an agreement to retrieve and repatriate the remains of American troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War. The North later sent back 55 boxes, which Pompeo said was the single largest return of remains from the regime.
The effort has reportedly been suspended amid a deadlock in denuclearization negotiations between the two countries.
Pompeo heaped praise on Trump, saying the president was unafraid to try "new" diplomatic tactics after past administrations' attempts to appease or neglect North Korea all failed.
"So we're maintaining pressure on the North Korean regime while keeping an outstretched hand for diplomacy," he said.
Boasting that he has now spent more time with the North Korean leader than former NBA star Dennis Rodman, Pompeo added, "This is an important step towards achieving America's ultimate objective, the denuclearization of North Korea and the safety of countries in the region and all around the world."
The secretary also recalled the release and return of three American detainees from North Korea last year, saying it amounted to "glory" to bring them home to the US on his plane.
"It was quite an amazing thing," he said. "It was 2:30 in the morning. We arrived in Washington, DC President Trump and Melania and all the senior leaders were there from America, and the TVs -- although it was 2:30 in the morning, every eye was riveted." (Yonhap)