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(LEAD) Seoul, Washington in sync on 'grand bargain' approach to NK nuke: Steinberg

All Headlines 11:58 September 30, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more comments, details)
By Lee Chi-dong and Tony Chang

SEOUL, Sept. 30 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said Wednesday that his country is in sync with South Korea on a "comprehensive approach" to North Korea's denuclearization and is willing to improve relations with Pyongyang if it takes irreversible steps to dismantle its nuclear program.

Steinberg, on a trip here as part of an Asia tour, stressed a need to break the vicious cycle of North Korea reaching a nuclear deal, reneging on it, and returning to provocative behavior.

"What we all agree is that we've lived through the history before of partial measures and reversible measures. What we need is a comprehensive and definitive resolution of the nuclear question," the U.S. diplomat said. "And in that context, as we've said in the 2005 joint statement, we are prepared to make significant improvements in our relationships with North Korea," he told reporters after a series of meetings with Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, Vice Foreign Minister Kwon Jong-rak, presidential security adviser Kim Sung-hwan, and chief nuclear negotiator Wi Sung-lac.

"But it requires a comprehensive and definitive approach. I think that is what President Lee Myung-bak is talking about, that's what we're talking about. I think we are absolutely in sync on this," he added.

Delivering a speech in New York earlier this month, Lee put forward a "grand bargain" proposal that the North be granted a comprehensive package of incentives including security guarantees if it dismantles the key parts of its nuclear program in an irreversible way.

The proposal targets getting to the North's nuclear weapons and materials, Lee's aides have said, even if it takes more time in producing a deal.

U.S. officials were initially lukewarm in their reaction, raising questions about whether the allies had held adequate consultations on the issue. Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state, has said small measures could be necessary at times in handling the nuclear problem.

Steinberg at the same time reaffirmed Washington's willingness for dialogue with Pyongyang.

"I think there is a tremendous opportunity now for them to take a constructive measure. They've certainly given some indication that they understand the value of re-engagement and we would like to see them take advantage of it," he said.

The U.S. earlier said it will hold a bilateral meeting with the North but would focus on coaxing the communist state back to the six-way nuclear talks where actual negotiations should take place.

Steinberg is scheduled to leave for Tokyo, the last leg of his five-nation tour, later Thursday. He also traveled to Malaysia, Vietnam, and China.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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