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Clinton On The Defensive At Trade Summit

Fast-track 'setback' will be overcome, Albright vows

By John King/CNN

VANCOUVER, B.C. (Nov. 24) -- The United States always comes to Pacific Rim economic summits preaching free trade, urging Japan, South Korea and other Asian nations to open their markets to U.S. goods.


But this year at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vancouver, President Bill Clinton is a bit defensive because of the congressional decision not to give him fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals with other countries.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made clear today that the White House views it only as a temporary setback. "Congress' failure to renew the president's fast-track trade negotiating authority has not altered our determination to lead," Albright said. "We view that failure as a setback we intend to overcome.

"Next year," she continued, "we will return to Congress and we're hopeful that the president will be given the flexibility he needs to go forward with our trade agenda in the Asia-Pacific [region], on time, and in full."

Clinton added a meeting with South Korea's president to his schedule today as the administration plots a strategy for dealing with the turmoil in Asian economies.


Sources told CNN that U.S. corporate leaders on hand for the APEC summit are urging the administration not to be too giving in supporting South Korea and Japan as they deal with the economic turmoil.

The president was already meeting with the leaders of Indonesia, China and Japan around the official APEC schedule when aides decided to add a meeting with President Kim Young Sam of South Korea, whose country is seeking a financial bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.

IMF officials are in Seoul meeting with South Korean leaders and a U.S. official says they believe it will take two to three weeks to draft a bailout package.

In meetings with advisors this morning, administration officials grappled over how blunt Clinton should be in publicly discussing U.S. disagreements with Japan. The president is meeting with Prime Minister Ryuutarou Hashimoto the day after Japan's fourth-largest brokerage house was forced to close its doors, and at a time the administration is unhappy with Tokyo's efforts to stimulate Japan's domestic economy.


Clinton spent some time today huddling with Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers to discuss Japan and economic issues. One official told CNN: "We want to be candid about the need for them to reform their banking system and do more on trade and the like, but the guy (Hashimoto) is also under a lot of pressure right now."

Clinton also was briefed about a breakfast that top economic advisers had with American CEOs on hand for the meeting. One source told CNN the corporate leaders reminded the administration that South Korea and Japan, when their economies were booming, were stubborn about opening their markets to U.S. business.

One official says General Motors CEO Jack Smith was adamant that these countries "take a hit" during the crisis and that the IMF not go beyond structural financial assistance to bail out investors who made reckless decisions by overbuilding factories in Asia.

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