It's time for North Korea to start disarming, U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris said a day after the presumed remains of as many as 55 U.S. service members missing from the Korean War were returned.
Speaking to the South Korean media Thursday at his residence in Seoul, Harris said there could be no movement toward ending the state of war on the peninsula until North Korean leader Kim Jong Un starts living up to his commitment to "denuclearization," South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
"I think for the denuclearization to happen, we need to see the move, and I haven't seen that yet," said Harris, a retired four-star admiral and former commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
In talks with the government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korean officials have pressed for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean war, but the outspoken Harris said disarmament must come first.
"One of the things that hasn't happened is the demonstrable moves toward denuclearization before we can entertain something like the end-of-war declaration," he said.
Rather than disarm, North Korea has continued producing fissile material for nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month.
President Donald Trump hailed satellite photos indicating that North Korea was dismantling a missile test facility, but other reports have suggested that the North is expanding missile production.
Trump has said that Kim committed to denuclearization and the return of the remains of U.S. service members missing from the Korean War at their June 12 summit in Singapore.
At his news conference, Harris urged caution in any negotiations on a peace treaty.
"It is my hope that we move forward the issue of the end of war declaration with South Korea," he said. "This, in my view, should be an alliance decision, and we should not be precipitous in declaring an end of the war."
Harris' remarks came a day after he attended the honor guard ceremony at Osan Air Base south of Seoul where 55 transfer cases believed to contain the remains of U.S. service members missing from the Korean War were placed aboard two Air Force C-17 Globemasters.
The two aircraft brought the remains to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii to begin the process of identification and eventual return to their families.
Harris, who retired as PACOM commander in June, was originally the Trump administration's choice to become ambassador to Australia.
The administration ultimately changed course and nominated him to become ambassador to South Korea, a post that had been vacant since Trump's inauguration when then-Ambassador Mark Lippert resigned. The Australia post is still vacant.
"I've spoken in the past about the need to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, and not to his knees," Harris said at his Senate confirmation hearing.
His remarks contrasted with a conciliatory tweet from Trump thanking Kim for the return of remains and expressing eagerness for another summit with him. Trump also referenced a recent letter he received from Kim but did not disclose the contents.
"Thank you to Chairman Kim Jong Un for keeping your word & starting the process of sending home the remains of our great and beloved missing fallen! I am not at all surprised that you took this kind action," Trump said. "Also, thank you for your nice letter -- l look forward to seeing you soon!"
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.