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Lee urges N. Korea to improve human rights record
By Chang Jae-soon
PHNOM PENH, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak urged North Korea on Tuesday to end its nuclear programs, fulfill international obligations and work together with the international community to improve the lives and human rights of its people.

   Lee made the appeal during a meeting of the East Asia Summit, an 18-nation forum grouping the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its eight dialogue partners -- South Korea, China, Japan, the United States, Russia, Australia, India and New Zealand.

   U.S. President Barack Obama was in attendance.

   "The North Korean nuclear issue is a priority issue. However, from the standpoint of more than 20 million North Korean people, human rights and freedom are also pressing and significant issues," Lee told the meeting, according to his office.

   "I take this opportunity to once again call on North Korea to focus on improving the human rights and lives of North Korean people by abiding by international conventions and joining the international community," he said.

   Obama issued a similar appeal in a speech during a landmark visit to Myanmar a day earlier, urging the communist nation to "let go of your nuclear weapons, and choose the path of peace and progress."

   "If you do, you'll find an extended hand from the United States of America," he said.

   Lee also thanked other leaders for their support for South Korea to win the right to host the secretariat of the U.N. Green Climate Fund (GCF) and pledged to live up to their expectations by playing the role of a bridge between developing and industrialized nations.

   Lee also called for EAS partners to make concerted efforts to tackle climate change.

   At the end of the meeting, all EAS members but the U.S. and Russia announced the opening of free trade talks to forge what is dubbed the "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership" or RCEP, which is seen as a counterweight to the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

   Lee stressed that these regional economic integration processes should not be exclusionary but be pursued in a mutually beneficial manner with the aim of opening up participating economies.

   "Should RCEP and TPP be pursued based on this principle, I believe that in the long term, we can create an Asia-Pacific free trade zone that encompasses the entire Asia-Pacific region," he was quoted as saying.


South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands during a dinner reception in Phnom Penh on Nov. 19. It was their first face-to-face meeting since Obama won a second term early this month. (Yonhap)