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U.S. suspends war remains search over North Korea missile plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has suspended plans to send a team to North Korea to search for U.S. war remains because of Pyongyang's decision to launch a rocket next month marking the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung's birth, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

United Nations resolutions bar North Korea from conducting ballistic missile tests, and the United States said Pyongyang's plan to send a satellite into space aboard a rocket would violate its agreement last month to stop long-range missile launches.

The United States had planned to send a team to North Korea in March to search for the remains of missing U.S. troops killed in the 1950-1953 Korean war, Pentagon spokesmen said. It was not immediately clear whether the visit was put on hold before the team had gone to North Korea.

Asked about the planned visit at a news conference, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said, "We have suspended that effort for the moment." He said North Korea was aware of the decision and the reason.

"We have suspended that effort because we believe that North Korea has not acted appropriately in recent days and weeks and that it's important for them to return to standards of behavior that the international community has called for," Little said.

"We hope to engage with them on remains recovery efforts. That's important," he added. "But when there are suggestions that they might launch ballistic missiles, when they make bellicose statements about South Korea and engage in actions that could be construed as provocative, we think that it's not the right time to undertake this effort."

Navy Captain John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, indicated the planned launch might also interfere with U.S. plans to deliver food aid to the North. A launch, he said, would violate Pyongyang's international obligations.

"We have to hold them to account for that," he said. "And I believe there will be other repercussions as a result of their continued pursuit of this particular launch, which could include that."

(Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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