Six U.S. senators flying in to talk FTA

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Six U.S. senators flying in to talk FTA

Six U.S. senators will arrive in Korea early next week for talks with Seoul officials on the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and the Seoul-Washington alliance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said yesterday.

Analysts said a visit by such a high-caliber U.S. delegation suggests a deepening of the alliance and an increasing possibility of the ratification of the free trade agreement.

The six senators are Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Republican Rob Portman of Ohio, Republican Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Rupublican Jerry Moran of Kansas and Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota.

Webb arrives Sunday and the others arrive Monday.

They will meet Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, the ministry said. Their other meetings have not been announced. Webb is scheduled to meet Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon.

The senators will also pay a courtesy call to President Lee Myung-bak.

Webb, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, led a Senate initiative to denounce North Korea for the shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island last year. The resolution was passed in December.

Webb has also expressed support for the Seoul-Washington alliance and has urged U.S. President Barack Obama to ratify the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement swiftly.

“During [Webb’s] visit, his first since last May, we expect to review the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea issues and discuss an early ratification of the Korea-U.S. FTA,” said the ministry in a statement.

McConnell, the Senate minority leader, also urged the swift ratification of the pact. Two other senators in the group also played an important role in the Korea-U.S. FTA.

During the 2006 FTA negotiations, Portman was the U.S. trade representative and Johanns was U.S. agriculture secretary.

Two congressmen will also visit Korea at the same time. Tom Reed, Republican of New York, and Karen Bass, Democrat of California, will visit Korea on the Congressional Member Exchange Program, the ministry said. Both are members of the Korea Caucus, a group of U.S. congressmen interested in South Korea. Loretta Sanchez, Democrat of California, visited Seoul in March as the first guest under the program.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also be visiting Seoul on Saturday and Sunday to discuss issues with Seoul officials.

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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