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S. Korea, U.S. united on N.K., FTA: envoy

South Korea and the U.S. are “on the best of terms” regarding a shared belief to remain firm against North Korea’s nuclear activities and activate their free trade deal at the earliest possible date, Seoul’s ambassador to Washington said Thursday.

“We have been together on maintaining international sanctions against North Korea, while also keeping open chances of dialogue,” Amb. Han Duck-soo said during a meeting with reporters Thursday.

It “would be technically difficult” for Washington to offer aid to Pyongyang at an earlier date, the ambassador added, regarding recent talks over the possibility of Washington sending rice aid to the impoverished nuclear-armed state.

“The U.S. would review the possibility if North Korea officially asks for rice, but its principle is to first discuss the issue with Seoul,” said Han. “Also, several conditions, such as winning an approval by the Congress, must be fulfilled to send the rice aid.”

Han also reiterated Seoul and Washington’s coordinated position not to jump into peace talks until North Korea promises to halt provocations and show through action its previous pledge to disarm.

South Korea and the U.S., who are members of the six-nation dialogue aimed at denuclearizing North Korea, have been escalating discussions lately after the communist state unveiled a new uranium enrichment facility last year.

Viewing the facility as an indication of North Korea’s ongoing nuclear ambitions, the two countries have called for tougher international sanctions while also maintaining open chances of dialogue with the reclusive state.

Han also said the U.S. government is expected to submit to the Congress the free trade agreement with South Korea “in the near future.”

U.S. President Barack Obama recently called on Congress to pass a free trade agreement with South Korea as soon as possible, upping the mood for an early activation of the deal.

“The general view toward the deal has become more supportive since the additional negotiations in November,” Han said.

“Trade deals generally affect the financial sector but eventually also play a role in enhancing bilateral ties,” he added. “With a positive belief on the issue, I will continue efforts to speed up the process (of ratification).”

Han met reporters while in Seoul to attend a conference of South Korean diplomatic chiefs held every year to familiarize senior diplomats with the nation’s foreign policy objectives.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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