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

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Now, say analysts, Lee has to decide quickly whether to stick to his repeated pledges to adopt a "pragmatic" and tough policy toward North Korea – and break, as he has promised, from the Sunshine policy initiated by Kim Dae Jung after he became president a decade ago.

"It could be a dilemma for Lee Myung Bak," says Shim Jae Hoon, a longtime analyst of North Korean affairs. Lee "needs to draw a line from the previous government. He got elected on a platform of changing the government policy, and everything hinges on the nuclear issue."

At stake is a memorandum believed to have been drafted by US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill and North Korean envoy Kim Kye Gwan in a recent meeting in Singapore. In the face of North Korea's refusal to acknowledge anything to do with enriched uranium or the Syrian facility, Mr. Hill is believed to have suggested the two agree on a statement listing those accusations. North Korea would acknowledge that it "understands" what's written down – without directly affirming the truth of the document.

"That's too big a concession," says Choi Jin Wook, senior researcher on North Korea at the government-affiliated Korea Institute for National Unification, especially since Mr. Kim said after the meeting that he was happy with the results.

"North Korea cannot help but smile at this agreement," adds Mr. Choi, "but problems apparently focus on a matter of definition."

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