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Latest update : 2009-11-19

Following a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the last stop of his Asian tour Thursday, visiting US President Barack Obama vowed to press ahead with North Korean negotiations, but with a new approach.

REUTERS - U.S. President Barack Obama and his South Korean counterpart pressed North Korea on Thursday to return to dormant nuclear talks and said it was time for the reclusive state to break a pattern of provocative behaviour.

Obama and President Lee Myung-bak also agreed to push for progress on approving a bilateral free trade deal that has yet to be ratified by legislatures in either country two years after it was signed.

"The thing I want to emphasise is that President Lee and I both agree we want to break the pattern that existed in the past, in which North Korea behaves in a provocative fashion, and then is willing to return to talk ... and then that leads to seeking further concessions," Obama said.

Lee, standing beside Obama at a news conference after their bilateral meeting in Seoul, said that North Korea could hope for massive economic aid if it renounces its nuclear arms ambitions.

"I hope that by accepting our proposal, the North will secure safety for itself, improve the quality of life for its people, and open the path to a new future," Lee said.

North Korea rattled regional security just ahead of Obama's first visit to Seoul since taking office by sparking a naval fight with the South and telling the world early this month it had produced a fresh batch of arms-grade plutonium.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have cranked up pressure on the destitute North by squeezing lines of finance to get it back to six-country negotiations on its nuclear programme.

Obama said the door was open for resolving the nuclear stand-off and a special envoy, Stephen Bosworth, would go to Pyongyang on Dec. 8 for talks, but Washington was determined not to distracted by "side issues" thrown up by North Korea.

Lee signals movement on FTA

Obama flies home later in the day after perhaps the least problematic leg of a week-long Asia trip that included China, where he barely bridged divides on trade, currency policy and Tibet.

Thousands of cheering South Koreans lined the streets of downtown Seoul as Obama's motorcade drove by, unlike in Chinawhere there was little popular excitement over his visit.

The thorniest issue between Washington and Seoul is their free trade agreement, which analysts say could increase their annual two-way trade by about $20 billion from $83 billion now.

"President Obama and I once again confirmed the economic and strategic importance of the free trade agreement between our countries and agreed to work on its progress," Lee said.

Date created : 2009-11-19


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