- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Deadline looming

South Korean Ambassador Lee Tae-sik says one of his urgent priorities is helping his country reach a free-trade agreement with the United States quickly because both nations realize they are racing against an unusual deadline.

In South Korea yesterday, the U.S. negotiator said Washington’s goal is to reach an agreement by the end of the year. President Bush’s authority to conclude trade agreements that Congress must approve or reject but cannot amend expires in mid-2007.

“To meet this deadline, my marching orders are to seek to conclude this comprehensive agreement by the end of the year,” Wendy Cutler, the assistant U.S. trade representative, told business executives in the capital, Seoul.

Mrs. Cutler and South Korea’s negotiator, Kim Jong-hoon, South Korea’s ambassador to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, this week announced a rapid-fire series of trade talks, beginning June 5 in Washington. A second round is scheduled in Seoul in July with others in September, October and December.

The two sides already are facing contentious issues. The United States wants South Korea to open its rice market, while South Korea wants greater access to the U.S. market for its steel and auto industries. South Korea also faces opposition to a free-trade deal from farmers and trade unions.

In Washington, Mr. Lee expressed confidence that the two countries will reach a deal quickly.

“Both countries share the perception that an FTA should be pursued promptly and are cooperating closely to lay the foundations for its successful conclusion,” the ambassador said on the South Korean Embassy’s Web site (www.dynamic-korea.com/embassy/greetings.php).

The bilateral trade amounts to more than $72 billion a year.

“There is no question that economic cooperation and trade with the United States have been essential for Korea to achieve an average national income of $20,000 per year and for Korea to play a central role in Northeast Asia,” Mr. Lee said.

Guardians of Israel

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was warmly praised this week as it basked in its annual conference in Washington, where the powerful Israeli lobby has been at the center of a shadowy U.S. spy scandal.

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon called AIPAC the “guardians of Israel” for its work to maintain close ties between Israel and the United States.

“This AIPAC conference is the greatest ever,” he said in a speech this week. “Each AIPAC conference was the best ever as you continue to grow.”

Mr. Ayalon recalled a biblical passage, “May you go from strength to strength,” as appropriate for the gathering.

He praised the “competence, devotion and commitment of all of you here tonight.”

Mr. Ayalon also paid tribute to Israel’s stricken prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

“To me, he is more than a heroic national figure,” the ambassador said. “He is a mentor and a friend, who asked me four years ago to come to Washington. We continue to pray for his recovery.”

Mr. Ayalon said that while Israel faces “many challenges,” his country “will continue to be strong morally and physically.”

He recalled that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, once said that in the Middle East, if you do not believe in miracles, you are not a realist.

“I am a realist, and I believe in Israel and the strength of the Jewish people,” Mr. Ayalon said.

AIPAC is likely to find itself in a less favorable spotlight next month when two of its former top officials go on trial for receiving classified documents from former Defense Department analyst Lawrence Franklin.

He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in January for passing the documents to Steven Rosen, who was AIPAC’s director of policy issues and considered its chief strategist, and Keith Weissman, the lobby’s former Iran specialist.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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