The United States has suspended efforts to recover the remains of service members missing in North Korea. U.S. officials are linking the decision to North Korea's plans to launch a ballistic missile.
The United States had planned to resume efforts to recover the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War more than half-a-century ago on what is now North Korean territory. It was a rare instance of cooperation between Washington and Pyongyang.
U.S. teams were scheduled to arrive in North Korea and start working at about this time.
But on Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman George Little said that will not happen. "We have suspended that effort because we believe that North Korea has not acted appropriately in recent days and weeks, and it's important for them to return to the standards of behavior that the international community has called for," he said.
Previously, the United States had not linked the recovery of American remains to the broader political situation, including North Korea's nuclear program and its threats against South Korea.
Little said Pyongyang’s suggestions that it might launch ballistic missiles despite United Nations resolutions against such action is unacceptable. "When there are suggestions that they might launch ballistic missiles, when they make bellicose statements about South Korea and engage in actions that could be construed as provocative, we think that it's not the right time to undertake this effort. We’re hopeful that we'll get past this period and that we can continue the recovery effort. But it is on hold for the moment," he said.
North Korea last week announced plans to launch a satellite next month to mark the 100th birthday of its late leader Kim Il Sung, a move the United States says would be in violation of a U.N. ban.
The United States calls the announcement highly provocative and a threat to regional security. South Korea has condemned the planned launch, saying it suspects that Pyongyang wants to develop a longer-range missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Others countries, including China and Japan, have also expressed concern.
North Korea's announcement came only weeks after Pyongyang told Washington that it would suspend long-range missile launches in exchange for food aid.
U.S. officials have not said whether plans to deliver the aid will go ahead.
U.S. President Barack Obama is preparing to visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea in the coming days.