The deputy commander of the United Nations Command said Monday that he had started talks with North Korea about a US soldier who crossed the fortified border between the two Koreas last week.
General Andrew Harrison reported that the process had begun through lines of communication established in the Joint Security Zone between the two countries under the armistice that stopped fighting in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953.
The well-being of Private Travis King remains the command’s top concern, Harrison added, but declined to provide further details due to the sensitivity of the talks.
North Korea has not made a public statement about King, who crossed the border last Tuesday when he was due to travel to Fort Bliss, Texas.
US authorities have raised concerns about his condition, earlier saying North Korea was ignoring their requests for information about him.
Harrison said he “remains optimistic,” though he said there was no way of knowing how the talk with Pyongyang would proceed. Civilian visits to the Joint Security Zone have been suspended since King crossed the border.
King’s crossing came at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where the pace of North Korean weapons demonstrations and combined US maneuvers have intensified in a cycle of retaliation.
Harrison announced the start of talks hours after the South Korean military reported the arrival of a nuclear-powered submarine in South Korea, the second site of a powerful US warship on the Korean peninsula this month.
The USS Anapolis pulled into port on Jeju Island about a week after the USS Kentucky docked at Busan port on the mainland. This is yet another show of force to counter North Korea’s atomic threats.
The Kentucky is the first nuclear-armed U.S. submarine to visit South Korea since the 1980s. Upon its arrival, Pyongyang fired cruise and ballistic missiles in an apparent demonstration that it has the capability to conduct nuclear strikes against South Korea and U.S. ships stationed there.
Between shots, North Korea’s defense minister issued a threat insisting that the Kentucky’s docking in South Korea could be grounds for Pyongyang to use a nuclear weapon against it.
The North Korean government has already made statements to this effect before, but this time it highlights the high level of tensions.
The Annapolis, whose main mission is to destroy enemy ships and submarines, is powered by a nuclear reactor but has conventional weapons. She finds herself anchored in Jeju to stock up on supplies.
Jang Do Young, a spokesman for the South Korean Navy, said the US and South Korean militaries were in talks to determine whether they will hold training sessions with the spacecraft.