Scrapped drill with South Korea would have cost US$14m: Pentagon

"It does underscore the difficulty of negotiating with North Korea toward the end of denuclearization", former Rear Admiral John Kirby said to CNN's Poppy Harlow as they broke the news.

But cross-border relations have warmed after South Korean President Moon Jae-in - who has championed dialogue with the isolated North since taking office a year ago - held a landmark summit with the North's leader Kim Jong Un in April.

However, officials say it could be months before excavations can begin and years until the remains are identified.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018.

North Korean officials did not turn up to a Thursday meeting with the USA military about repatriating the remains of the war dead, according to a US official with knowledge of the situation.

South Korea's urbanisation is one reason why more than a 1000 American service members are unaccounted for, said McKeague. The U.S. -led United Nations Command's public affairs office referred questions to the State Department.

Mr Pompeo arrived in the North Korean capital on July 6 - but his three-day visit was ignored by the North Korean dictator. Kim praises the significance of their meeting and the joint statement they put out, but the letter doesn't do much to support Trump's claim that progress is being made in his stated goal of denuclearizing North Korea. The agreement reportedly covered the remains of some 200 American soldiers.

The US military has since announced that 100 wooden coffins have been moved to the inter-Korean border in preparation.

But North Korea's delegation failed show up.

North Korea also proposed to reschedule the meeting for Sunday.

Coming after a year of Twitter taunts and nuclear brinkmanship, the meeting between Kim and Trump was historic, in that it was the first meeting between a USA president and his North Korean counterpart.

He also accused China, the North's sole, yet powerful, ally, of seeking to undermine the deal.

It would be the first such repatriation in more than a decade after a joint search effort was halted amid rising tensions over the North's nuclear weapons program.

Pompeo underscored the importance he places on the issue earlier this week when he tweeted that North Korea had committed to repatriating remains.

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