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Lee holds talks with opposition leader over contentious issues

All Headlines 08:40 June 27, 2011

SEOUL, June 27 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak met with opposition leader Sohn Hak-kyu on Monday for talks on the free trade agreement with the United States, college tuitions and other contentious issues.

The breakfast meeting, which marked the first of its kind in about three years, came as the government seeks to persuade Sohn's main opposition Democratic Party (DP) to ratify the trade pact despite its demand for the renegotiation of the long-pending accord.

It also came as the opposition party increased pressure on the government to take steps to lower college tuitions. Other agenda items included job creation, the opposition demand for a supplementary budget to bankroll welfare measures, curbing household debts and how to deal with ailing savings banks.

At the start of the meeting, Lee and Sohn talked about Sohn's planned visit to Japan aimed at helping comfort victims of March's massive earthquake and tsunami and seeking Tokyo's support for South Korea's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

"There are a lot of outstanding issues to discuss," Lee told Sohn.

Sohn, who first made the dialogue offer earlier this month, thanked Lee for accepting the proposal.

Since last week, the two sides have held a series of negotiations to lay the groundwork for the talks. Officials from both sides said they have come close to an agreement on the issues of household debts and savings banks, but remained wide apart over the trade pact and other matters.

The meeting also drew attention as Sohn is considered a leading opposition contender for next year's presidential race. Sohn's popularity and standing in his party received a big boost in April when he won a parliamentary by-election in an electoral district that had been considered a ruling party stronghold.

The two sides planned to issue a joint statement summing up the talks later in the day.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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