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N. Korea's Economy Should First Stand on Its Own before Unification

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on May 22 North Korea's economy should first get on its feet before the two Koreas become unified again, stressing that Seoul never wants the socialist neighbor to collapse.

   President Lee made the remark in an interview with CNBC television broadcast in Singapore earlier in the day, stressing that the international standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear programs and other issues can be resolved if the regime opens up and works together with the outside world.

   "It is not that we wish something will go wrong and North Korea will collapse because it will give South Korea a great burden," Lee said in the interview. "If North Korea goes together with the international community, its economy can stand on its own and it would be most desirable to have a peaceful unification after that," he said.

   North Korea has relied on outside aid to feed its people since the mid-1990s.

   Regarding the eurozone financial crisis, Lee said debt-ridden Greece should accept austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for a bailout package, saying South Korea went through harsher measures when it accepted humiliating IMF bailout loans during the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

   "Compared with South Korea, I think the level now being demanded for Greece is reasonable," Lee said. "I think Greece, including its government, businesses, workers and people, should voluntarily accept this."

   On May 21, President Lee instructed officials to make thorough preparations to stave off any negative fallouts from the fiscal crisis amid concerns that Greece may not meet the terms of its bailout and drop out of the eurozone, a scenario that could destabilize the entire European market and beyond.


President Lee Calls for Greater Attention to N. Korea's Human Rights Record

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on May 23 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.

   President Lee made the remark during a meeting with a group of U.S. lawmakers, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the 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.

   Ros-Lehtinen and five other Congressmen arrived in Seoul on May 22 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 chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee since last year. The other 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 came amid concern Pyongyang could carry out a nuclear test, which would be its third after two previous tests in 2006 and 2009, to save face after its long-range rocket launch failed in April.

   However, the North said om May 22 it had no plan 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 the May 23 meeting, Lee and the U.S. lawmakers said they appreciated 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.