WASHINGTON President Barack Obama personally assured his South Korean counterpart about prospects for a long- delayed free trade pact that his administration is working hard to advance, the White House said Tuesday.
"The president underscored that we hope to use the next week to make progress toward an agreement. If we can reach a satisfactory agreement on the key issues for American workers, we will have a deal," the White House said in a statement of President Lee Myung-bak's call to Obama Monday.
Obama hopes to resolve obstacles to the trade pact by the time he meets Lee in Seoul next week on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit that South Korea will host.
Obama visits Seoul as part of a 10-day trip to Asia that begins in India and will also include Indonesia and Japan. He departs Friday and is to return home on November 14. His meeting with Lee is scheduled for Thursday, November 11.
The U.S. and South Korea must thrash out issues connected with trade in beef and autos blocking U.S. congressional approval of the pact, which was signed in 2007 but has since been in limbo due to U.S. lawmaker opposition.
The White House has pledged a "maximum effort" in getting a deal done and have emphasized the importance of promoting U.S. exports and jobs throughout Obama's Asia tour.
Analysts say failure to advance the pact would embarrass Obama, who pledged at the last G20 meeting, in Toronto, to move it forward, as well as sending a negative signal to the wider region on current U.S. attitudes toward greater trade.
(Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Doina Chiacu)