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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

U.S. says it will not re-negotiate SKorean beef deal, despite crisis in Seoul

Foster Klug, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON - The United States says it has no intention of renegotiating a deal with South Korea that fully restores beef trade between the countries.

The comments from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner come as senior South Korean envoys are in Washington, urging the United States to alter the deal.

Conner said Wednesday that the United States has "national protocols that we have negotiated with the Korean government, and we do not intend to renegotiate those protocols."

The South Koreans are looking to defuse massive protests that threaten to bring down the pro-American government.

Some U.S. legislators have indicated a willingness to consider changes.

But some, such as Senator Ben Nelson, say the South Koreans have to find solutions to their own problems.

The U.S. Congress does not negotiate trade deals but the beef issue may loom large in the ratification of a U.S.-South Korean free trade accord.

At an April summit in Washington, South Korea's president struck a deal with President George W. Bush to reopen a beef market shut down over fears of mad cow disease in the United States.

The issue has long been an irritant in ties between the two allies.

After angry rallies against the deal, South Korean officials travelled to Washington to seek assurances the United States will not ship beef from cattle older than 30 months, even though that would be allowed under the agreement.

Younger cattle are believed to be less susceptible to mad cow disease.

This week's visit by officials from the National Assembly in Seoul, President Lee Myung-bak's office and the South Korean Agriculture Ministry comes as thousands of South Koreans protest the planned resumption of U.S. beef imports. The turmoil has paralyzed Lee's government.

South Korea was the third-largest overseas customer for U.S. beef until it banned imports after a case of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was detected in 2003.

Nelson, a Democrat from the cattle-producing state of Nebraska, has opposed banning older cattle, saying that might prompt other countries to demand such concessions.

Nelson said the government in Seoul "stoked up the South Korean people" with the idea that U.S. beef is unsafe.

"With the stories that they told, they were very successful. Now, it's like trying to un-ring the bell or unscramble the eggs, and they've got a serious problem. It does threaten their government," he said. But, he added, "unfortunately, they've made their own nest."

© The Canadian Press, 2008

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