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Lee to make rare visit to parliament over U.S. FTA

President Lee Myung-bak plans to make a rare visit to the National Assembly on Friday to call for quick approval of the long-pending free trade agreement with the United States, a senior presidential official said.

The unusual move reflects the urgency that Lee feels on the need to break the parliamentary impasse over the landmark pact that the U.S. Congress already approved two weeks ago. The two sides hope the agreement will go into effect as of Jan. 1.

The visit comes a day before Lee departs for Hawaii for an Asia-Pacific economic summit.

"President Lee plans to visit the National Assembly this afternoon," the official said on condition of anonymity. "He plans to stress the need for the Korea-U.S. FTA, which still remains in a stalemate, and ask for smooth handling of it."

It would be Lee's third visit to the National Assembly since taking office in early 2008, including a July 2008 appearance for a budget speech. But it would be the first time that he visits parliament to try to persuade lawmakers on a specific issue.

Lee is expected to meet with National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae and leaders of his ruling Grand National Party, including its chairman, Rep. Hong Joon-pyo. But it is unclear whether leaders of the opposition parties will meet with the president.

South Korea's government and the ruling party have been stepping up efforts to ratify the trade pact that they believe will boost exports, create jobs and strengthen the alliance with Washington. But the main opposition Democratic Party opposes the deal, claiming it favors the U.S.

Prospects of a breakthrough brightened after about half of the

87 DP lawmakers proposed a compromise earlier this week, pledging not to use force to block the passage of the pact if the government promised to renegotiate the provision with the U.S. after the deal takes effect.

On Thursday, the ruling and opposition parties called off a parliamentary plenary session scheduled for the day amid the standoff, forcing a delay in handling the key pact by at least another week. The next plenary meeting is scheduled for Thursday next week.

Lee has been working hard to help pass the agreement through parliament, and is ready to do "whatever he can" for the goal, officials said. (Yonhap News)


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