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(4th LD) Lee, Obama vow efforts to denuclearize N. Korea, ratify FTA

All Headlines 16:18 November 19, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks from South Korean officials on the outcome of summit, more details)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, Nov. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama urged North Korea Thursday to immediately return to nuclear negotiations, vowing joint efforts to fully denuclearize the communist nation under a package deal.

In a joint press conference after their summit, Obama announced that Stephen Bosworth, special U.S. representative for North Korea policy, will visit Pyongyang on Dec. 8 for bilateral talks as part of such efforts.

The leaders agreed to the so-called "grand bargain," Lee said, which was first proposed by the South Korean president in a bid to dismantle North Korea's nuclear program in one single step rather than in phases.

"We two leaders completely agreed on the need to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue in one single step as I proposed under a grand bargain, and agreed to discuss how to pursue that goal in close consultations," Lee said at the joint press conference.

The South Korean president said there was no set timeframe for the denuclearization of the communist North, but that the proposed grand bargain seeks to do so at the earliest date possible.

"President Lee and I are in full agreement on a common approach going forward," Obama said.

"The thing I want to emphasize is that President Lee and I both agreed on the need to break the pattern that has existed in the past, in which North Korea behaves in a provocative fashion and then returns to talks for a while and then leaves the talks seeking further concessions," Obama said at the press conference.

"We will not be distracted by a whole host of other side items that end up generating a lot of meetings but not concrete actions."

There is a path for Pyongyang to gaining economic assistance and integration into the international community, the U.S. president said.

"That opportunity and respect will not come with threats," he added.

Thursday's summit, the third of its kind between Lee and Obama, began on a lighter note, with the South Korean president welcoming Obama's visit here that followed earlier stops in Japan and China, saying he believes the U.S. president saved "the best for last".

Obama expressed gratitude for the warm welcome, which he said indicated the strong alliance between their two countries.

The U.S. president arrived here Wednesday as part of his four-nation Asia tour that also took him to Singapore for the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to move forward on the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), signed over two years ago but yet to be ratified. U.S. trade officials have insisted South Korea needs to concede more in the auto sector where the trade balance leans heavily in Seoul's favor.

Lee said his government was willing to discuss any concerns the U.S. might have, but stressed it was important for them to realize the enactment of the trade deal will not only help strengthen their alliance, but also bring economic benefits.

"South Korea has also signed FTAs with other major automobile manufacturers, such as the European Union. This was possible because any problems with such countries were resolved, so we plan to talk again and I think we can talk again (with the U.S.)," he said.

Seoul's Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon later said this did not mean there will be a renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. FTA, but that Seoul is willing to listen to U.S. concerns and jointly try to come up with solutions or explanations.

"I believe most of the items they (the U.S.) prepare and bring to us, if they do, will be those that can be addressed by simple explanations," the trade minister told reporters.

Obama cited a growing concern within the U.S. over a growing trade imbalance between his country and Asia as a whole as one of the reasons preventing an early ratification of the Korea-U.S. FTA by the U.S. Congress.

"I am a stronger believer that both countries can benefit by expanding our trade ties... One of my goals is to make sure, as we walk through these issues, that the American people, American businesses, American workers recognize that we have to look at each agreement and each country on its own merits," he said.

President Lee said bilateral trade between the two countries was nearly balanced, while also noting a recent report that suggested some 240,000 jobs will be created in the U.S. alone following the enactment of the Korea-U.S. FTA, according to Kim Sung-hwan, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security.

The two leaders also sought to strengthen the alliance between their countries, agreeing to hold their first joint security talks between their defense and foreign ministers next year.

Obama praised Seoul's leadership in the international community, saying its recent announcement to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions sets a model for other emerging economies.

The U.S. president's first trip to South Korea was met with both warm welcomes and voices of protest. As conservative civic organizations celebrated half a century of the alliance between South Korea and the U.S., progressive groups demanded a more equal footing between the countries.

A group of activists on Wednesday claimed the U.S. president was only seeking to win Seoul's support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. South Korea recently decided to send additional aid workers to the war-torn nation along with troops to protect them.


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