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Mark Sauter, a long-time researcher on the POW-MIA issue, criticized the Pentagon for missing an opportunity to resolve the fate of at least 55 American soldiers known to be alive in North Korea at the end of the war but who never came back.

Air Force Col. David Ellis, principle director of the Pentagon’s POW/Missing Personnel Affairs, stated in a June 19 letter to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, that the issue of missing American POWs and the six-party nuclear talks with North Korea was “not in the purview of my office.”

Mr. Sauter said he and others met prior to last week’s delisting of North Korea to try and get the Pentagon to pressure North Korea into making a full accounting of missing Americans before the U.S. diplomatic action but were rebuffed.

The focus of U.S.-North Korea cooperation for nearly a decade, Mr. Sauter said, has been on the recovery of remains and not on forcing Pyongyang to come clean on the missing servicemen, despite continuing intelligence and defector reports that Americans were left behind.

Pentagon officials have said they have asked North Korea to account for the missing Americans during the six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

However, the activists were upset that President Bush promised to press the North Koreans on the Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, but made no public comment on resolving the fate of American POWs.

Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at