SKorea, Japan Say No Aid Until NKorea Disarms

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The leaders of South Korea and Japan took a united front Friday in saying North Korea should not be offered aid until the communist regime takes concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he agreed with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's view on withholding aid to Pyongyang "as long as North Korea does not take specific actions" over its nuclear and missile programs.

The two leaders held a summit Friday in Seoul before they are to head to Beijing for a three-way summit with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Lee's proposal to offer a one-time "grand bargain" of aid and concessions in exchange for denuclearization _ rather than the step-by-step process pursued over the past six years _ is "completely correct," Hatoyama said.

Their comments reflects the skepticism Seoul and Tokyo share about North Korea, both countries' neighbor, which has been accused of raising tensions and then agreeing to dialogue and disarmament, only to backtrack after reaping the economic and political benefits of its promises.

Lee said he is confident North Korea will return to international nuclear talks after Pyongyang holds direct negotiations with Washington. He reiterated the need for a "fundamental and comprehensive solution" to the nuclear impasse to ensure that "past negotiating pattern will not be repeated."

Earlier in the week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said his country could rejoin the stalled six-nation nuclear talks depending on progress in its negotiations with the United States.

North Korea's deputy nuclear negotiator, Ri Gun, is seeking to visit the U.S. for a private security forum in California later this month, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Friday. Ri could meet with U.S. officials then to lay the groundwork for possible one-on-one negotiations, Yonhap said, citing an unidentified source.

The North withdrew from the six-party talks after being condemned for conducting a rocket test in April and a nuclear test in May. It said at the time it would never return to the talks involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the U.S.

Kim Jong Il's offer of dialogue, made during talks Monday with the Chinese premier, reflects Pyongyang's desire for direct engagement with Washington. The Obama administration has said talks might be possible _ as part of the six-nation negotiations.

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