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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pyongyang Recalcitrant on Pilot

SEOUL -- North Korean and U.S. military officers held a fruitless meeting on the Korean border Tuesday to discuss the return of an airman captured after his U.S. army helicopter was downed in North Korea, while diplomats warned that more delay could jeopardize the recently negotiated U.S.-Korean nuclear agreement.


During the 35-minute meeting at the hamlet of Panmunjom on the tense inter-Korean border -- the first formal discussion of the incident between the two sides -- the North Koreans refused to discuss details of the incident or the pilot's possible repatriation, a U.S. military spokesman in Seoul said.


"Our side asked for a prompt return of the helicopter and its crew," the spokesman said.


"The North Koreans withheld any immediate response, and said information concerning the incident will be made available once an investigation is over," he said. The two sides were expected to meet again "soon" to discuss repatriation of the pilot and other issues related to the helicopter's downing, he said.


North Korea said it shot down the South Korea-based helicopter over its territory, killing Chief Warrant Officer David Hilemon and capturing Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Hall. The Pentagon says it has not been able to confirm whether the craft was shot down or made an emergency landing.


Clinton administration officials have expressed concern that North Korea's puzzling recalcitrance over the return of the airman, if it continues, could jeopardize the entire nuclear agreement just negotiated with Pyongyang.


"I don't know of anyone who thinks the (nuclear) agreement can survive if they don't produce the pilot," one administration official said. "Unless this issue is resolved, everything's off."


U.S. officials and South Korean analysts are beginning to wonder whether the North Korean army -- or perhaps some hard-line elements within it -- might be thinking of using the American pilot to try to sabotage the nuclear deal. Under the agreement reached in October, North Korea is supposed to freeze and eventually dismantle its existing nuclear installations in exchange for economic and diplomatic rewards.


(Reuters, LAT)