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2008/08/07 11:02 KST

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

Lee, Bush Urge N. Korea to Improve Human Rights Condition

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the U.S. on Aug. 6 urged North Korea to improve its human rights conditions and immediately complete its denuclearization as a prerequisite for normalizing its relations with them.

   A joint statement released after the summit between President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President George W. Bush at the former's office in Seoul said that the South Korean and U.S. leaders reaffirmed their commitment to improving the human rights situation in North Korea.

   "Lee and Bush shared the view that in the process of normalizing relations, meaningful progress should be made on improving North Korea's human rights record," said the statement.

   The statement marks the first time the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. have jointly press the communist North over its human rights record.

   Bush has said in Washington that he will raise human rights issues, including China's repatriation of North Korean defectors, during his Asian trip this week.

   The statement also stated that Bush expressed his regret and condolences regarding the shooting death of a South Korean tourist at North Korea's Mt. Kumgang resort area on July 11 and urged the North Korean authorities to engage in inter-Korean dialogue to promptly resolve the case and prevent any recurrence of such a tragedy.

   Bush's public mentioning of the North Korean shooting of a South Korean tourist is expected to put considerable diplomatic pressure on the North, which has stubbornly refused to cooperate with a probe into the mysterious incident and has instead demanded an apology from the South, diplomats in Seoul forecast.

   As expected, Lee and Bush allotted a significant portion of their joint statement to North Korea's denuclearization, urging the communist North to promptly complete its commitments in the second phase of the denuclearization process and, through third-phase actions, to implement full abandonment of all its nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.

   The two then reaffirmed their intent to take corresponding measures together with other participating countries in the six-party talks, and agreed to continue their close coordination for the further progress in the multilateral nuclear talks.

   "The presidents also agreed that a rigorous verification regime needs to be established in order to ensure the completeness and correctness of the declaration submitted by North Korea, and that the fulfillment of all the parties' obligations should be ensured," said the statement.

   The U.S. president also reiterated his full support for President Lee's recent proposal to resume inter-Korean dialogue and his initiative to help improve the economic conditions for the North Korean people in the context of continued progress on denuclearization and to offer a path for the two Koreas to live side-by-side in harmony and prosperity, opening the way to their eventual unification.

   In addition, the joint statement broadly covered issues of bilateral alliance, ways to gain legislative approval for the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and policy cooperation on international issues.

   "The two leaders agreed to further strengthen strategic coordination and cooperation between the two countries with a view to the prompt resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and the creation of a new peace structure on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," it said.