S. Korea, U.S. to meet over beef crisis

The South Korean trade minister plans to meet with his U.S. counterpart this week and may announce more negotiations on a deal that has imperiled the South Korean government, reported Thursday CNN according state media.

The two sides probably will pursue more negotiations on a deal that would resume beef exports from the United States to South Korea, according to the report from the Yonhap news agency. South Korea banned beef imports from the United States in 2003 amid concerns about mad cow disease.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have filled the streets of Seoul in recent weeks to protest the deal in demonstrations that "rapidly evolved into anti-government protests," the news agency said.

President Lee Myung-bak's cabinet and top civil servants offered to resign this week -- just months after the president's inauguration -- and the president promised a "fresh start" on Wednesday. His approval rating has fallen to less than 20 percent, the news agency said.

Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon plans to travel to the United States on Friday.

The trade minister is expected meet with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab this week to ask for help in persuading U.S. beef exporters to only send beef to the United States from cattle younger than 30 months old, Yonhap said.

Younger cattle are thought to be at less risk of contracting mad cow disease.

The president addressed the swirling controversy on Wednesday.

"I'm determined to make a fresh start. Let's pursue aggressive challenges in these difficult times," Lee said in a statement that may signal sweeping government personnel changes.

Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and the South Korean Cabinet offered to resign Tuesday. The move followed a similar resignation offer last week by eight top Lee aides.

Washington and Seoul reached an agreement in April that would clear the way for South Korea to resume importing beef from the United States, but Seoul now has reservations over the terms of the agreement.

South Korean negotiators met with U.S. officials in Washington on Wednesday to try to change the terms of the deal.

Lee instructed them "to ensure that beef from cattle 30 months old and older will not be imported under any circumstances," his Web site said. "It will not be easy, but I urge you to do your best to realize what the people want in this matter."

State Department officials said Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill met with the officials in Washington.

The South Korean move stems from concerns that animals more than 30 months old are a greater risk for mad cow disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bans the use of certain organs of cattle more than 30 months of age because they represent a greater threat for mad cow disease, but the agency considers the meat from those animals to be safe. While the United States already agreed not to export the cattle organs considered most likely to carry disease, the deal put no age restrictions on cattle.

Last week, the South Korean government put off the final administrative step needed to resume imports. Without that step taking place, no beef will be imported from the United States.

Eating meat products contaminated with the illness has been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal malady in humans.

Scientists believe mad cow disease spreads when farmers feed cattle recycled meat and bones from infected animals.

The U.S. banned recycled feeds in 1997.

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