Fact check: Trump is wrong that soldiers’ remains are still ‘coming back’ from North Korea

Posted at 5:21 PM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-25 19:21:45-04

President Donald Trump falsely claimed again on Tuesday that North Korea continues to send the US the remains of American troops who died in North Korean territory during the Korean War.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump was asked about his latest letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said it was a “nice” response to Kim’s birthday message to him, then began touting the progress he said he has made in relations with North Korea.

The President accurately cited North Korea’s decision to pause nuclear testing and to release American detainees. But then he returned to one of his repeated inaccurate statements.

“We’ve had, as you know, the remains of the heroes, our great heroes from many years ago — that’s coming back, and coming back as they find them, and as they find the sites and the graves, and they’re sending them back,” Trump said.

Facts First: While North Korea returned some remains last year, it is no longer doing so. The US military announced in May that the remains program had been suspended for the rest of the 2019 fiscal year because North Korea had stopped communicating with the US agency responsible for the effort.

Trump could accurately tout the return of remains in the past tense: North Korea returned 55 cases of possible remains in the summer of 2018. As of late May, six soldiers had been identified from these cases.

But Trump’s use of the present tense — “that’s coming back” and “they’re sending them back” — is incorrect, as is his suggestion that North Korea is currently working to identify sites and graves. The Pentagon’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said in May that no more remains would be coming back this fiscal year. The agency said North Korea had not spoken with the agency at all since the Hanoi summit in February between Trump and Kim Jong Un, which ended abruptly.

The official announcement that the remains program has been frozen has not stopped Trump from wrongly claiming that the remains continue to be returned. He also made the present-tense claim in a May 27 press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (“We, as you know, are getting the remains — continuing to get the remains”), a June 11 exchange with reporters (“The remains keep coming back”), and a June 12 press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda (“We’re getting the remains back”).

Trump was challenged on the claim in an interview on June 17. A Time reporter informed him: “On North Korea, the remains have stopped coming back. The Pentagon is no longer in discussions with the North Koreans about the remains.”

The President responded, “But they will be. Look, we’ve gotten remains back. That will start up again.”