Death toll in ferry sinking tops 150 as hope dwindles

N.K. faces crunch time, Lee says

N.K. faces crunch time, Lee says

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Published : 2010-03-29 23:17
Updated : 2010-03-29 23:17

The moment of truth is nearing for North Korea as Seoul`s "grand bargain" proposal involving Pyongyang`s denuclearization in exchange of aid and security guarantee is gaining wider international consensus, President Lee Myung-bak said.
In an interview with CNN aired on Saturday, Lee expressed hopes that Pyongyang would have interest in his offer of comprehensive deal if it really intends to give up nuclear programs.
"We have presented a package deal instead of the step-by-step approach of the six-party talks thus far. The time is approaching for North Korea to answer the question of whether it is ultimately to drop its nuclear programs or not," Lee said in the interview in Davos, Switzerland, where he attended the World Economic Forum.
Late last year, Lee proposed a single-step package deal to replace the incremental action-for-action framework of previous six-party talks.
Seoul views the past piecemeal approach as vulnerable to North Korea`s "salami" tactics of dividing and separating issues and making new demands for progress in every step.
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"All five members (save the North) of the six-way talks understand the grand bargain. If North Korea has the intention of giving up its nuclear program, it may have interest in it," he said.
If Pyongyang returns to the dialogue, Seoul is willing to discuss the package deal, he said.
Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said late last month that he expects the six-party nuclear disarmament talks to resume in mid-February.
Pyongyang boycotted the six-party talks in response to U.N. sanctions against its missile and nuclear tests in 2009. The North indicated its willingness to return to the six-party talks in October.
A dramatic breakthrough is unlikely, however, as Pyongyang has raised the stakes by demanding U.S. recognition of its status as a nuclear weapons state and by bringing the matter of a peace treaty to the forefront in order to divert attention from denuclearization.
On Thursday, Lee said he may meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il this year to discuss the nuclear dispute and peninsular peace.
"I am always ready to meet with Chairman Kim Jong-il," he said in an interview with the BBC.
He said the two sides should meet for reconciliation and cooperation without any conditions. "I think the meeting will take place within the year," he said.
Lee`s top press aide Lee Dong-kwan reiterated yesterday that there is no practical preparation underway for the summit.
The North has rejected any discussion of the nuclear issue with the South, claiming that it should be settled with the United States. The North has justified its atomic weapons ambitions over what it called America`s hostile policies.
The United States Friday expressed support for an inter-Korean summit.
"We strongly support President Lee and the very clear path he set forward about what is necessary to achieve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told a forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
"I am confident whatever form of engagement the South Korean government achieves, we will do this through close cooperation."
(jjhwang@heraldcorp.com)

By Hwang Jang-jin

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