US links beef import to FTA with South Korea
Korea Times, 8 November 2005
US Links Beef Import to FTA With South Korea
By Park Song-wu
Alexander Vershbow, Washington’s top diplomat to Seoul, said Tuesday that South Korea’s lifting of the ban on U.S. beef could trigger talks on a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).
Seoul blocked U.S. beef in December 2003 when Washington reported its first suspected case of mad cow disease.
``We are actively discussing this question since it needs to be resolved for us to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement,’’ he said.
The ambassador made the statement while answering questions from South Korean Internet users during a 90-minute Web chatting session, the first of its kind since he took office in Seoul on Oct. 16.
The ``Cafe USA’’ at http://cafe.daum.net/usembassy was launched in November 2004 by Vershbow’s predecessor, Christopher Hill, who currently heads Washington’s delegation to the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs.
Denying that Washington is pressuring Seoul to lift the imports ban, Vershbow underlined that his country wants Seoul to swiftly finish reviewing the research, which Washington delivered last summer, claiming that mad cow disease in the U.S. is eradicated.
As for a rising demand for a withdrawal of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), he said the American troops will stay here even though the number of them will decrease.
``Complete withdrawal is not something either side is contemplating right now,’’ he said. ``But we will only stay if the Korean side wants us here.’’
The number of American soldiers will decline from 30,000 to 25,000 over the next three years, the ambassador said.
Answering a question on North Korea’s human rights record, Vershbow said the U.S. ``certainly’’ shares everyone’s concerns about it.
``I know President (George W.) Bush would want to talk about how our two countries can encourage change in the policies of Kim Jong-il’s regime,’’ he said. ``I think the U.S. and (South) Korean governments have the same goals, even if we don’t always have the same tactical approach.’’
Vershbow’s strong support of human rights, which was highlighted when he criticized Moscow for its crackdowns on Chechen rebels, has made many people in South Korea predict that he will try to raise the issue of North Korea’s poor human rights record during his stay in South Korea.
Reacting to messages welcoming Bush’s visit to South Korea, Vershbow said the U.S. president is scheduled to tour Pulguk-sa Temple in Kyongju. Bush and President Roh Moo-hyun will have a summit in the city on Nov. 17.
Vershbow, 53, is known as a Europe expert who was deeply involved in settling Washington’s relations with Moscow, especially over arms reduction and nonproliferation issues during the Cold War era.
Given his career, Vershbow should be knowledgeable of North Korea’s missile and nuclear issues, even though the former ambassador to Moscow has not been in charge of Northeast Asian affairs.
He was director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Soviet Union Affairs during the last years of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and participated in numerous U.S.-Soviet summits and ministerial meetings.