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'Secret' U.S.-N. Korea deal irks South

South Korea's conservative president will meet with Bush Friday, as the US appears to soften its stance on North Korea.

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Talks: President Lee has vowed to take a hard line on North Korea.

Ahn Young-Joon/AP

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South Korea's recently inaugurated president, Lee Myung Bak, faces his first major foreign-policy challenge this week, as he prepares to confront President Bush Friday on a controversial secret deal reportedly drafted between American and North Korean negotiators.

Senior South Korean officials say they still don't know the contents of the agreement, which is meant to jump-start North Korean compliance with agreements to abandon its nuclear weapons program. But they bristle at suggestions that North Korea is attempting to bypass their government while negotiating with the United States.

"I do not know what they have agreed," says Prime Minister Han Seung Soo, the top official here while Mr. Lee meets with Mr. Bush at Camp David on Friday and Saturday. "But if North Korea is going to the United States over the shoulder of [South] Korea, it will not succeed."

Analysts say the US is backing away from the key condition of the six-party agreement signed in February 2007, which called for North Korea to reveal the contents of its entire nuclear program. The North has repeatedly denied developing warheads with enriched uranium or aiding Syria on the facility that was bombed by Israeli warplanes last September.

Tough love or compromise?

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