- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Chile is certain that its free-trade agreement with the United States will not be derailed as punishment for opposing the U.S.-led war against Iraq, the country’s foreign minister said yesterday.
   
   “We have no date for the signing but we have certainty that it will be signed and sent to Congress,” Soledad Alvear, Chile’s foreign minister, said at a Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce meeting in Washington.
   
   The United States and Chile wrapped up negotiations on the free-trade agreement in December, around the same time the United States finished a trade pact with Singapore.
   
   Singapore’s deal is scheduled to be signed by President Bush next week. The island nation did not have a seat on the United Nations Security Council but publicly supported U.S. policy toward Iraq.
   
   Chile did have a seat on the U.N. Security Council, where earlier this year it chose not to back the United States’ position on the use of military force against Iraq.
   
   But Mrs. Alvear said the break between the United States and Chile would not have a lasting effect on bilateral relations.
   
   “We are confident that this divergence will be finally understood as a legitimate difference of opinion between two nations that enjoy a solid relationship and that … are allies,” she said through a translator.
   
   The failure to set a date to sign the pact has left Chile supporters questioning the Bush administration’s intentions.
   
   Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Monday said that “there was disappointment when some of our friends did not agree with us” on Iraq.
   
   “But that’s behind us now,” he added during a speech at the Council of the Americas, a Washington business group that promotes free trade in the Western Hemisphere.
   
   The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment.
   
   John O’Leary, former U.S. ambassador to Chile and president of the Chilean-American Chamber, said that despite official disappointment, the deal would be approved.
   
   “The agreement is too important to both countries,” he said.
   
   The next instance for support comes as the United States looks to have international sanctions against Iraq lifted, an issue tied up in reconstruction efforts and the United Nations’ role in rebuilding the country.
   
   Mrs. Alvear said the United Nations should have a role in Iraq but it remains to be seen what that role will be.
   
   With Singapore, Mr. Bush is expected to sign the agreement next week, clearing the way for Congress to vote yes or no on the deal this year.
   
   On Monday, Singapore’s trade and industry minister said that approval might be easier if both pacts moved forward together.
   
   “It is a dubious honor to be the first goat across a minefield,” he said, referring to the process of congressional approval.
   
   Both pacts had support in Congress but yesterday a House aide said that some members have become hesitant about the Chile deal because of the country’s stance on Iraq. The aide said the agreement should eventually pass but no timeline is under consideration.
   
   House and Senate Democrats, led by Montana Sen. Max Baucus and California Rep. Cal Dooley, in a letter to the president earlier this month said any delay on Chile would be a “tremendous mistake.”


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