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U.S. still tough on N. Korea, softer on Iran

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) -- Two "rogue states" in the eyes of U.S. officials -- North Korea and Iran -- are getting notably different treatment here.

The Obama administration maintains a hard-line view on North Korea, while softening its stance on Iran, which has new leadership known to be relatively moderate.

The disparity was palpable in Wednesday's press briefings at the White House and the State Department.

The department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, reiterated that the onus is on Pyongyang if it hopes to resume dialogue with the United States.

She pointed out the North has not averted its course yet.

"The ball is in their court," she said at a daily press briefing, asked about the communist nation's recent peace overtures. "If they take those steps, you know, and move toward the objective of a verifiable denuclearized Korea, then that is something we'd be open to discussing. But that has not changed, so our position has not changed."

Psaki maintained there are steps North Korea needs to take before any talks. She did not specify, but observers say Washington wants Pyongyang to take some initial steps toward denuclearization such as a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile activities and the return of international inspectors to its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon.

When asked about Iran at the same news briefing, Psaki struck a cautious but rather positive tone.

"We are at a different point in this with a new government in place, and we're having a level of conversation that is different from what we had in the past," she said.

The remarks came hours after a new round of negotiations with Iran in Geneva.

Iran said it had "substantive and forward-looking" talks with the so-called P5+1 group -- the U.S., Britain, China, France and Russia, plus Germany.

Teheran said it put forward what it called a breakthrough proposal on the inspection of its nuclear sites.

The two sides agreed to meet again in Geneva Nov. 7-8.

The White House said Iran has shown a new level of "seriousness and substance" in the negotiations.

"We found the Iranian presentation very useful," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a separate press briefing. "The Iranian proposal was a new proposal with a level of seriousness and substance that we had not seen before."

Carney, however, cautioned the media against excessive optimism.

"Having said that, no one should expect a breakthrough overnight," he stressed, citing the need for a painstaking review of Teheran's complicated, technical offer.

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