Democrats rebuff presidential visit to the Assembly

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Democrats rebuff presidential visit to the Assembly

President Lee Myung-bak’s attempt to pay a rare visit to the National Assembly yesterday to seek cooperation from ruling and opposition parties in ratifying the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement was rebuffed by the Democratic Party.

The Blue House said the president will instead visit on Tuesday.

The Democratic Party had initially refused to receive Lee’s visit yesterday afternoon, calling it “an overture to railroad the FTA through.”

But Representative Kim Jin-pyo, DP floor leader, later proposed a Tuesday visit and told Speaker Park Hee-tae that he would meet the president then, which the Blue House accepted.

“Park believed that it would be appropriate for the leadership of both the ruling and opposition parties to attend the meeting with the president,” Han Jong-tae, National Assembly spokesman, said. “In the morning, we telephoned DP floor leader Kim Jin-pyo, and Kim promised that he would do his best to receive Lee on Tuesday, so we requested the Blue House to reschedule the visit to Tuesday.”

Kim Hyo-jae, senior secretary to the president for political affairs, said the Blue House accepted the request even though the president had been adamant about visiting yesterday.

“Both sides promised that they would meet with Lee on Tuesday,” Kim said. “We’ve decided to delay [the visit] because it is more appropriate to accept an earnest request from the opposition party.”

But until the DP floor leader’s counterproposal, the president intended to visit and meet with Democrats, welcome or not.

“We were going to go and wait,” Kim said. “But the opposition party presented a counterproposal and we thought there was no reason to turn down the request because it’s just a matter of a few days’ difference.”

The senior secretary said that the president hoped to meet with the chairmen and floor leaders of the ruling Grand National Party and other opposition parties, including the DP, on Tuesday, adding that the Blue House still had hopes that lawmakers could reach a compromise before his visit.

The DP is scheduled to have a party caucus on Monday, on the eve of Lee’s rescheduled visit.

If Lee visits the National Assembly next week, it would be his fifth visit to the legislature since taking office in February 2008.

Despite the DP floor leader’s agreement to receive the president on Tuesday, it remains unclear whether Lee will actually be able to meet with DP leaders next week.

After the DP floor leader told Speaker Park that he would do his best to receive the president on Tuesday, Representative Lee Yong-sup, DP spokesman, held an urgent press conference to tell reporters that the floor leader’s agreement was not the party’s official position.

“[DP floor leader] Kim just gave an answer out of formality,” the spokesman said. “That is not the final position of the DP leadership.”

The DP said they had no intention of welcoming the president unless the administration was willing to accept their demands - that the provision on investor-state dispute settlements be removed from the FTA and that Lee renegotiate the issue with the U.S.

“If there is no new proposal, and if Lee is coming just to push forward the FTA and pressure the DP, there is no need for the meeting,” the spokesman said. “If Lee meets with U.S. President [Barack] Obama on the sidelines of APEC and brings back a new proposal for a renegotiation, or if there is a prospect of a breakthrough, then we are willing to meet with Lee.”

President Lee leaves for Hawaii today to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Earlier in the morning, Representative Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the DP, had expressed extreme displeasure about Lee’s plan to visit the National Assembly yesterday afternoon.

“There was no formal proposal or advance discussions,” Sohn said. “Just coming to the National Assembly and trying to meet with the head of the main opposition party is bad etiquette.”

According to sources, DP floor leader Kim Jin-pyo had also politely turned down the president’s wish to visit yesterday when Kim Hyo-jae, the senior secretary, telephoned him and informed him of the plan. The sources said Kim advised that a visit by the president would not be of help to the ruling and opposition parties’ efforts to end the deadlock over the FTA.


By Ser Myo-ja, Yang Won-bo [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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