President Lee Myung-bak on Wednesday reported progress in his efforts to persuade the U.S. Congress to ratify a free trade agreement with South Korea, saying a Republican leader has become more positive about the deal after a phone call with him.
"Some time ago, I called the Republican floor leader ... and said 'why does the Republican party oppose the Korea-U.S. FTA that it had pushed for when it was the ruling party?'" Lee said during a meeting with South Korean residents in New York, apparently referring to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
"Then the floor leader said he would work more actively on it. And after this phone call, a lot has really changed," he said, adding that South Korea's ambassador to the U.S. has reported that the Republican leader is working actively on the trade pact.
Lee did not say when he made the phone call.
The accord was signed in 2007 when former U.S. President George W. Bush was in office and then modified last year to help address U.S. concerns about its auto industry. The deal has since been awaiting legislative approval from both countries.
Earlier this month, Lee's ruling party presented the deal before a parliamentary committee in the first step toward its ratification amid protests from the opposition party. The ruling party wants an early ratification, while the opposition party claims the deal favors the U.S. and should be renegotiated.
Lee also told the meeting with compatriots that they should break away from voting for candidates along regional lines in next year's major elections and make decisions based on merits. Starting next year, South Koreans living overseas are allowed to vote in elections in their homeland.
Regionalism has been cited as one of the deep-rooted maladies of South Korean politics, with many voters tending to cast their ballots for candidates from their hometowns and regions, rather than electing officials based on their merits.
Next year is a big election year in South Korea with both parliamentary and presidential votes to take place.