S. Korea-U.S. nuclear bill to hit House floor this week

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (Yonhap) -- As South Korea and the United States prepare for a new round of negotiations on civil nuclear cooperation, Congress is set to begin full-fledged consideration this week of a bill aimed at extending the current accord by two years.

The House of Representatives floor action is scheduled for Tuesday on the bill, H.R. 2449, introduced by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, according to congressional sources.

"There are chances that the bill will be passed without vote under a fast-track process," a source said. "Even if it is put on vote, there will be no problem in getting approval."

The current accord between South Korea and the U.S., dubbed the "123 agreement," was signed in 1974 and was supposed to expire in March 2014.

Despite two years of negotiations, the two sides failed to strike a new deal. The U.S. refused to accept South Korea's pursuit of uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing in line with its efforts to secure the stable supply of nuclear energy.

South Korean officials said the current version is outdated to meet Seoul's enhanced status as a nuclear plant exporter. U.S. officials are apparently more concerned about the possible negative impact to their global nonproliferation campaign.

The rollover of the accord is intended to give the two nations more time for negotiations.

"Once the House floor passes the extension bill, the Senate is also expected to start its own procedures," the source said.

Meanwhile, South Korea's chief negotiator, Amb. Park Ro-byug, plans to visit Washington late this month for talks with his American counterpart, Thomas Countryman. Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, is Washington's new point man on the sensitive negotiations.

Park and Countryman will hold two days of negotiations in the final week of September, another source said.

"The upcoming session would mark the beginning of full-scale negotiations after the two sides agreed on the stop-gap measure to extend the current accord," the source said.

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