US Army soldier Travis King is pictured at this unknown location, in an undated photo obtained by Reuters.
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The United Nations Command and North Korea have begun discussing the case of Travis King, the US soldier who crossed into the North last week, the deputy commander of the US-led command overseeing the Korean War truce said Monday.
King, a US Army soldier serving in South Korea, sped into North Korea on July 18 while touring the Demilitarized Zone on the inter-Korean border, thrusting Washington into a new diplomatic dilemma with the nuclear-armed North.
Talks between the UNC and the North Korean military were initiated and carried out through a mechanism established under the Korean War armistice, according to Lt. Gen. Andrew Harrison, a British army officer serving as deputy commander of the multinational force.
“The main concern for us is the well-being of Private King,” Harrison told a news conference, declining to go into details about contact with the North.
“The conversation has started with the KPA through the mechanisms of the Armistice agreement,” Harrison said, referring to the North Korean People’s Army.
“I can’t say anything that could harm that process.”
North Korean state media, which has generally commented whenever US citizens have been detained, has been silent on King.
The incident comes at a time of heightened tension on the Korean peninsula. Last week, North Korea conducted ballistic missile tests hours after a US nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine arrived at a South Korean port.
It was the first such visit since the 1980s and served as a stark reminder to the North that Washington always has nuclear-tipped missiles deployed at close range.
North Korea is prohibited under UN Security Council resolutions from using ballistic missile technology, which Pyongyang defiantly rejects.
Visits to the border truce village, formally known as the Joint Security Area (JSA), were suspended after King crossed the border.
People who join those tours, which are supervised by UNC, must sign up well in advance to get approval and are supposed to follow strict rules, including what they can wear, for the tour.
How King was cleared to go on the tour despite his record remained the subject of an ongoing investigation, Harrison said.
King had been detained in South Korea on charges of assault and damage to public property and was due to fly back to his base of operations in Fort Bliss, Texas last week to face disciplinary action.
Asked if the plan is to keep the area open to the public, Harrison said it had not yet been decided when or how the JSA portion of these tours would resume.
“It’s a constant balance between that value (of educating the public) and the risk to the people who are in the Demilitarized Zone,” he said.
On Saturday, North Korea fired a barrage of cruise missiles into the sea west of the Korean peninsula. On Monday, another US nuclear-powered submarine arrived in South Korea.
Late last week, North Korea warned that the deployment of US aircraft carriers, bombers or missile submarines to South Korea could meet the criteria for the use of nuclear weapons.