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Officials Say Safety of US Personnel Behind US Move to End N. Korean MIA Search

The US Pentagon has suspended its efforts to recover the remains of US soldiers inside North Korea. The move comes amid increasing tensions with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programs.

Defense officials say North Korea has created an environment dangerous to U.S. workers searching for the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. The announcement comes just as the bodies of two U.S. soldiers were taken from North Korea and repatriated.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless told a U.S. House of Representatives hearing that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recommended halting the search efforts that began in 1996.

"These people are in very isolated positions in the field on these digs that they're participating in, these recovery operations, and it is extremely difficult for them sometimes to be in proper communication," says Richard Lawless

Mr. Lawless said the Pentagon is concerned about the safety of U.S. personnel in North Korea, who are not allowed to call outside the country.

Other defense officials have reportedly said that the announcement reflects U.S. unease with the direction of North Korean policies.

The Bush administration has criticized Pyongyang for refusing to resume six-party talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea over North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Talks have not been held since last June.

Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill expressed his frustration with North Korean diplomats. He says, "You have to ask yourself the question 'are they serious?' And I can't answer that right now, because if I were talking about the dismantlement of a nuclear weapons program that I'd been building for 20 yrs, I wouldn't be fussing around with the question of whether we're going to meet in Beijing or Mongolia or somewhere else."

Mr. Hill said that the United States needs to start achieving results soon with regard to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but he declined to give specifics. The Bush administration has ruled out bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang.