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SEOUL — President Barack Obama said Thursday that North Korea must "break the pattern" of provocative actions and return to international talks if the communist nation hopes to get economic aid and reduced sanctions.

"[North Korea] talks for awhile, and then leaves the talks seeking further concessions, and there’s never actually any progress on the core issues," Obama said during a joint press conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, held at the presidential Blue House.

Lee said the presidents agreed to propose a "grand bargain" to North Korea designed to provide the isolationist regime with security guarantees and economic aid in return for the North dismantling its core nuclear programs, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The two met Thursday morning during Obama’s last stop in his nine-day trip to Asia, which included meetings in Japan, Singapore and China before he arrived in Seoul on Wednesday.

During their meeting, which Lee described as "in depth" and "fruitful," the presidents discussed trade, climate change, and of course, the situation in North Korea.

Obama’s visit comes just weeks before U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth travels to North Korea on Dec. 8 for direct talks with the communist regime. Obama said North Korea has a clear choice to end its nuclear weapons program and get economic assistance.

"That opportunity and respect will not come with threats," he said. "North Korea must live up to its obligations."

Lee said he believed North Korea’s nuclear program could be peacefully dismantled but that it’s important to know if North Korea genuinely intends to give up its nuclear program and allow verification of that.

"It is not a simple matter, we know that for sure. For the last 20 years or so, we’ve been dealing with and negotiating with North Korea" without reaching a resolution, Lee said.

Obama and Lee also agreed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will meet with South Korean foreign and defense ministers next year, the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, to discuss the development of the countries’ security alliance. The U.S. has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent to North Korea.

Turning to another emerging nuclear threat, Obama said Iran "is not making itself more secure; it is making itself less secure" by not agreeing to give up its nuclear weapons program. He said the U.S. and other countries will begin discussing further actions to take in regard to Iran, although Obama said he hoped the Middle Eastern country would cooperate.

"We weren’t going to duplicate what has happened with North Korea, in which talks have happened forever without any … resolution to the issue," Obama said.

Both presidents said they wanted to move forward on a stalled free trade agreement between the two countries, which has been written but not approved by either the U.S. Congress or South Korea’s National Assembly.

"In the United States, I think there is a misperception, that the free trade agreement, once it is passed, will only benefit South Korea and be detrimental to U.S. consumers," said Lee, who along with Obama said the trade imbalance between the two countries was small.

The presidents also said they had agreed to coordinate their efforts on combating climate change and using green energy.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report


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