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South Korea sends lawmakers to U.S. over beef imports

Ruling party seeks assurance that older cattle won't be sold amidst mad cow disease fears

Portraits of U.S. President George W. Bush, left, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak are seen damaged by cigarette butts in Seoul, South Korea, ...

Portraits of U.S. President George W. Bush, left, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak are seen damaged by cigarette butts in Seoul, South Korea, ...

South Korean ruling party lawmakers left yesterday for the United States to seek assurances that it will not export beef from older cattle in hopes of calming a domestic political crisis generated by fears of mad cow disease.
The trip to Washington comes amid South Korean media reports that President Lee Myung-bak's Cabinet could resign tomorrow because of the uproar over his government's agreement with the U.S. to resume American beef imports and the massive, sometimes violent rallies it has spawned in Seoul.
The Grand National Party delegation of four legislators and one party official will urge the U.S. to promise in writing that it will not export beef from cattle aged 30 months or older, said party spokesman Hwang Cheon-mo.
Older cows are considered at greater risk of mad cow disease, a brain-wasting cattle sickness. South Korea has asked Washington to refrain from exporting meat from older cattle despite an April agreement that allows it.
Seoul's presidential office said Saturday that U.S. President George W. Bush pledged in a phone conversation with his South Korean counterpart to work out unspecified measures banning the export of meat from older cattle.
The White House meanwhile said Bush assured Lee that Washington was ready to back U.S. beef exporters as they tried to reach a solution with South Korean importers. It did not comment on South Korea's statement on the older cattle.
Separately, senior South Korean Presidential Secretary Kim Byung-kook was also to leave for the U.S. as early as Monday to discuss follow-up measures on Lee's phone talks with Bush, according to the Blue House.
Major media, including the nationally circulated JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, reported yesterday that all of Lee's Cabinet ministers planned to offer their resignations tomorrow. The Blue House said it could not confirm the reports.
Also yesterday, Lee told Cardinal Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk he would make more efforts to win back public confidence, the Blue House said in a statement.
The president's breakfast meeting with the archbishop of Seoul comes after meetings in recent days with South Korean Buddhist and Protestant leaders as he seeks advice on the beef dispute.
South Korea agreed April 18 to resume imports of American beef, saying it would lift almost all quarantine restrictions imposed over fears of mad cow disease. South Korea banned American beef imports in December 2003 after a case was discovered in the United States.
The deal - signed just hours before a summit between Lee and Bush - sparked fierce protests in South Korea amid perceptions the government did not do enough to protect citizens from potentially tainted beef.
Although it officially still stands, the deal has effectively unraveled, because the South Korean government was forced to delay the implementation of the new quarantine standards as protests mounted.

Updated : 2021-11-28 11:26 GMT+08:00