Bangkok Post, 19 January 2006
THAI-US FTA TEAM CHIEF, INTIMIDATION
Nitya to stay on for ’sake of the nation’
Negotiator gives in to Thaksin’s appeals
The head of the Thai team negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States, Nitya Pibulsonggram, has been persuaded to remain in the ’’thankless job’’, sources said yesterday. The discouraged negotiator was consoled by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday and agreed to stay on for the country’s sake.
Mr Nitya, a former ambassador to the US, earlier reportedly said he wanted to resign, citing the pressures of the job, at the conclusion of the week-long round of talks in Chiang Mai last week which were disrupted by daily demonstrations by thousands of civic activists and farmers.
The sources said public criticism of the negotiating team was not the only factor. Mr Nitya was also distressed by interference by politicians and their aides.
The sources identified them as Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak’s aide Uttama Savanayana, Deputy Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Virachai Virameteekul, assistant to the foreign minister.
Mr Thaksin yesterday convinced Mr Nitya to remain in the job, the sources said.
Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon admitted that Mr Nitya had expressed worries about the mission. He would wait for the chief negotiator to clarify his position.
If Mr Nitya did resign it would not disrupt negotiations with the US.
Mr Nitya could not be reached for comment yesterday.
A Government House source said Mr Nitya felt overshadowed by Mr Somkid’s man, prompting him to seek assurances from the prime minister that he was still in the leading role.
Although Mr Nitya was regarded as not all that pragmatic or exceptionally skilful in negotiations, and not very good at communicating with the public, replacing him now would do more harm than good to Thailand’s position.
’’It would reveal conflicts within the team,’’ the source said.
Mr Somkid, however, praised Mr Nitya for his devotion and expressed sympathy for the many difficulties he had to face, advising him to remain stoic and firm.
People such as Mr Uttama, Mr Anutin and Mr Virachai were sent to lend support to the Nitya-led team, not to replace anyone, Mr Somkid said.
The talks had been progressing well and he saw no need to make any changes to the negotiating team.
The National Human Rights Commission has agreed to take a formal position against the FTA talks with the US and will send a letter of concern to Mr Thaksin next week.
Buntoon Srethasirote, a member of the committee monitoring the talks, said the commission remained concerned that the government would buckle to the US pressure and demands.
Deputy US trade representative Barbara Weisel has threatened to call off the next round of negotiations, saying there had been little progress so far.
Thai officials view this as simply an attempt to pressure the Thai side to accelerate its response to US demands.