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Roh and Bush talk it over to settle trade pact

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Mar 30,2007
“I will make the final decision” on the FTA, President Roh Moo-hyun said yesterday in Qatar, while U.S. President George W. Bush called opening the market to U.S. beef a part of his foreign policy. By Ahn Seong-sik, [YONHAP]
President Roh Moo-hyun and his counterpart in the United States, President George W. Bush, talked about difficult free trade issues ― automobiles, agriculture and textiles ― during a 20-minute phone conversation last night in a bid to resolve last-minute barriers to a deal, according to presidential spokesman Yoon Seung-yong.
Both leaders agreed to order their respective negotiators to be flexible as the talks near a deadline. They think the deal will bring mutual benefits to the two countries, the spokesman said.
Earlier, President Roh said that he will “make the final decision” on the pact as the talks enter their final hours.
Mr. Roh, who is on a state visit to Qatar, said, “There are times that it would be better for me to make the final decision, because I am the one who bears the final responsibility.”
A Blue House official said the president’s words mean that he is prepared to “make a breakthrough by taking care of the last controversies.”
Earlier in the day, President Bush was talking tough on beef at the National Cattlemen’s Association in Washington, D.C. Mr. Bush told the powerful industry group that “more than a hundred countries” have “fully or partially” opened their markets to American beef. “The objective of this administration, however, is to make sure that they are better than partially opened, that they are fully opened, including countries like Japan and Korea.” Opening up beef markets is “an important part of our foreign policy,” Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Roh, who is scheduled to return home from the Middle East today, said there may be “one or two items” that need his final decision when he returns. Negotiators are racing to beat a March 31 deadline and they have until about 7 a.m. Saturday morning to do so, although a final announcement may come earlier.
On Sunday, Mr. Roh is to make a statement to the public about the free trade pact, according to a Blue House aide who declined to be named. Since the negotiations officially launched last year in February, the higher-level talks have long been at loggerheads over agricultural issues and automobiles.
Mr. Roh yesterday signaled his continued support for the hard-fought pact. “Now is the age of free trade agreements,” Mr. Roh said. “I will make close deliberations right up to the final deadline.” Noting that he has been briefed about the negotiations during his Middle East trip, he added, “For now, we can neither be optimistic nor pessimistic.” Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, who is traveling with Mr. Roh, also discussed the pact in a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The question is which side blinks first over which issue. “There can never be a compromise on rice, but when it comes to beef, a compromise would be good for Korean customers,” said an unnamed government official. Prime Minister-designate Han Duck-soo told the National Assembly yesterday the deal would “break” if it includes rice.


By Chun Su jin [sujiney@joongang.co.kr]



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