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(2nd LD) Lee calls for greater attention to N. Korea's human rights record

All Headlines 04:13 May 24, 2012

(ATTN: UPDATES with statement by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen in paras 5-7; CHANGES dateline)

SEOUL/ WASHINGTON, May 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Wednesday North Korea's human rights record is an issue as important as its nuclear or missile programs, and should be dealt with more urgently than other matters.

Lee made his remarks during a meeting with visiting U.S. lawmakers, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, presidential spokeswoman Lee Mi-yon said.

"The issue of North Korea's nuclear test or a missile launch is of the same weight of significance as the issue of North Korea's human rights," Lee was quoted as saying. "The issue of human rights for the North Korean people should rather be dealt with more urgently."

The lawmakers promised to pay more attention to the human rights issue, the spokeswoman said.

In a statement on the meeting with Lee, Rohs-Lehtinen said,“President Lee understands the sinister and duplicative nature of the regime in Pyongyang."

"He has rightly spoken out against North Korea's horrific human rights abuses and outlaw regime," she added.

The lawmaker said she had also expressed "outrage" at China's forceful repatriation of North Korean defectors.

Ros-Lehtinen and five other congressmen arrived in Seoul Tuesday for a four-day visit that includes talks with Lee, meetings with the unification minister handling relations with Pyongyang and the first vice foreign minister, as well as a visit to the border with the North.

Ros-Lehtinen, a 12-term lawmaker, has been active on North Korea issues, initiating a series of bills calling for putting North Korea back onto the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and improving the human rights situation in the totalitarian nation.

She has led the Foreign Affairs Committee since last year. The lawmakers traveling with her are Reps. Dan Burton (R-Ind), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), Brad Miller (D-NC) and Jean Schmidt (R-OH).

Their trip comes amid concern that Pyongyang could carry out another nuclear test, its third after tests in 2006 and 2009, to save face after its long-range rocket launch failed last month.

However, the North said Tuesday it has no plans for a nuclear test, though it also warned of "counter-measures for self-defense" if the United States ratchets up sanctions and pressure upon the regime.

In Wednesday's meeting, Lee and the U.S. lawmakers said they appreciate that Seoul and Washington worked closely together in having the U.N. Security Council issue a swift presidential statement condemning the North's rocket launch, the presidential office said in a statement.

They also "shared the understanding it is important for the international community to send a strong and consistent message to North Korea" to get the regime to make the right choices, such as giving up its nuclear program, and improving its human rights and the livelihoods of its people through reform and openness, the office said.

The two sides also agreed to work together to ensure the smooth implementation of the free trade agreement between South Korea and the U.S. so citizens of both countries can enjoy substantial benefits from the pact, such as a rise in income and job creation, the office said.

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