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2009/07/10 23:10 KST
S. Korean president seeks Italy's support for Korea-EU FTA in summit

By Byun Duk-kun
L'AQUILA, Italy, July 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak sought to win Italy's support for an envisioned free trade deal between his country and the European Union in a summit with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi here Friday.

   The move is part of last-minute efforts by Seoul to conclude the free trade agreement (FTA) while three EU nations -- Italy, Poland and Hungary -- were believed to be holding back their full support for the accord.

   Berlusconi agreed to work with the South Korean leader to help "upgrade the Korea-EU relationship to a strategic partnership by concluding the Korea-EU FTA at an early date as agreed in the Korea-EU summit held in Seoul on May 23," Seoul's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said in a press release.

   The agreement could mean the sides are now only a step away from signing the deal which, once signed, is expected to generate billions of dollars in increased trade for both sides.

   Poland is said to have withdrawn its early opposition to the proposed deal, with President Lech Kaczynski saying in a joint press conference with Lee after their summit Wednesday that the FTA will help improve the relationship between his country and South Korea.

   Lee and the Italian prime minister agreed to improve their countries' bilateral ties, noting their relationship has steadily expanded to economic, political and cultural areas since first established in 1884, according to Cheong Wa Dae.

   "The two heads of state agreed to strengthen the cooperation between their countries in dealing with global issues, such as the worldwide financial crisis and climate change," it said in the press release.

   They also agreed to work together for an early resumption of six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambition, noting its possession of nuclear weapons will not be accepted.

   Pyongyang declared it was abandoning the nuclear disarmament talks in protest over U.N. condemnation of its rocket launch in April. The talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.