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Author: Liu Zhaokun

Abstract

Unrelenting animosity continues to define the relationship between the United States and North Korea, but in the mid-1980s, P’yŏngyang began to seek non-confrontational measures to fulfill one of its major diplomatic objectives—opening a channel of direct negotiation with Washington. The bodies of U.S. soldiers who had perished or gone missing in North Korea in 1950 during the Korean War became bargaining chips for the North Koreans. This article analyzes the political stakes of these remains for the two countries. It traces the meetings between Congressman Gillespie V. Montgomery and North Korean officials in 1989 and 1990, which led to the first return of U.S. soldiers’ remains since October 1954. North Korea’s insistence on delivering the remains to Montgomery, rather than the Korean War Military Armistice Commission, was an attempt to force the United States to acknowledge its legitimacy. Unable to abandon the bodies, U.S. officials offered limited concessions, while endeavoring to maintain the status quo in Korea. The 1990 remains repatriation revealed the possibility of cooperation between the two countries.

In: Journal of American-East Asian Relations